Scientists are seriously thinking of ways to deflect an asteroid when the time comes that a rogue one would hit Earth. For instance, they estimated that deflecting asteroid 101955 Bennu would require multiple small impacts from a massive human-made deflection device.
Daily Mail reported that scientists in the NASA facility in California have been testing asteroid deflection methods to assess which ones are the best to alter the course of an asteroid to prevent collision with Earth. The space agency said that asteroid 101955 Bennu has a greater chance of hitting Earth by around one in 1,750 over the next 300 years.
Testing Asteroid Deflection Methods
Since the 1960s, scientists have been considering the possibility that an asteroid could someday hit Earth, so they are testing different asteroid deflection methods to blow the cosmic object into thousands of pieces.
However, these pieces could also cause similar damage to Earth as much as an asteroid would hit the planet. So, they came up with the recent approach called kinetic impact deflection (KID), which will fire something into space and bump the asteroid off course away from Earth while ensuring that it is intact.
Scientists presented an outline of the recent KID efforts during the 84th annual meeting of the Meteoritical Society held in Chicago. Physicist Dr. George Flynn from the State University of New York in Plattsburgh told The New York Times that multiple impacts to the asteroid will be required to get it off course, away from Earth, noting that barely missing may be enough.
NASA scientists have been testing the Ames Vertical Gun Range built in the 1960s during the Apollo era. Scientists have fired small, spherical aluminum projectiles at 32 meteorites that were suspended by nylon strings. They concluded that when asteroid 101955 Bennu collides with Earth, KID needs to give it multiple bumps to avoid breaking it apart while shooting it off its course.
In 2022, NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission will test KID on a real asteroid in the Solar System by hitting asteroid Didymoon, which orbits a larger asteroid called Didymos.
Will Asteroid Bennu Hit Earth?
In a recently published study by NASA, titled "Ephemeris and Hazard Assessment for Near-Earth Asteroid (101955) Bennu Based on Osiris-Rex Data," published in the journal Icarus, the space agency pointed out that there is more than 99.9% probability that asteroid Bennu will not hit Earth in the next 300 years.
However, they added that the asteroid remains one of the two hazardous known asteroids in the Solar System along with asteroid 1950 DA, despite its low chances of hitting the planet.
According to CNN, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has been sending data to NASA about Bennu since it arrived at the asteroid in 2018. It will be a couple of years before OSIRIS-REx returns to Earth, but the data it was sending has helped scientists learn about the asteroid.
It is now heading back to Earth with a sample of the asteroid's surface and is estimated to arrive in September 2023.
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