NASA is already planning a mission to save the planet from an asteroid 5,000 times the size of a meteor that exploded over Russian skies in 2013 that approaches the Earth every six years.
The asteroid, dubbed Bennu by astronomers at NASA, could strike the Earth in the 22nd century, and engineers at the national space agency are already preparing to launch a mission to save the planet.
The Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) is already under construction and NASA hopes to launch it by sometime next year.
The three-meter long spacecraft is expected to arrive at the asteroid by 2018 where it will land and collect samples to bring back to Earth for study sometime in 2023, according to Edward Beshore, deputy principal NASA investigator.
"We are going to Bennu because we want to know what it has witnessed over the course of its evolution."NASA scientists hope studying the carbon-rich space rock will help provide clues to the origins of life and the beginning of our solar system. It will also enable researchers to send the space rock on a safe course away from Earth.
"Bennu's experiences will tell us more about where our solar system came from and how it evolved. Like the detectives in a crime show episode, we'll examine bits of evidence from Bennu to understand more completely the story of the solar system, which is ultimately the story of our origin."NASA also plans to leave behind a collection of artwork from Earth artists stored on a disk on Bennu in what will surely be the first space-based art gallery.
"It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space."For now, NASA scientists say the Earth is safe, but engineers at the space agency worry the near-Earth asteroid could strike the planet sometime in the late 22nd century, reports Clapway.
If the 538-yard (492-meter) diameter space rock strikes the Earth in 2182, as some NASA astronomers fear, the collision would be the equivalent of hundreds of nuclear weapons exploding in the same location.In the meantime NASA is moving forward with its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) with the goal of landing a spacecraft on an asteroid and redirect it to a near-Earth orbit around the moon. Astronauts from the space agency are scheduled to visit that space rock sometime in the 2020s where they will collect samples and prepare for a manned mission to Mars in 2030.
The mission will also let NASA gain much-needed experience for its mission to land unmanned spacecraft on asteroids near Earth to install robotic guidance systems and turn the space rocks into very basic spacecraft.
"If astronomers someday identify an asteroid that presents a significant impact hazard to Earth, the first step will be to gather more information about that asteroid. Fortunately, the OSIRIS-REx mission will have given us the experience and tools needed to do the job."These robotized space rocks could be flown into asteroids approaching the Earth to save the planet from destruction. There are two other space rocks NASA is worried about including one a quarter mile wide named 2009 FD that could collide with the Earth sometime between 2185 and 2196.
There's also the asteroid 1950 AD, which is a mile long and is schedule to come visiting in 2880; if it strikes the Earth the resulting collision could send the planet into another ice age.
Currently there is no planetary defense system in place to protect the Earth, but NASA hopes its robotic asteroids could protect mankind from annihilation.
[Image via NASA]