NASA is going ahead with plans to investigate Bennu, a space rock that many are calling an “Armageddon asteroid,” due to its size and the collective fears of the scientific community that the massive monster could someday impact Earth. The Armageddon asteroid is large enough to be seen from Earth when it crosses the planet’s orbital path every six years.
As the Telegraph reports, while the gigantic asteroid passes fairly close to Earth every half a decade or so, what really has people in the scientific community concerned is what is expected to happen in 2135. During that flyby of Earth, the Armageddon asteroid is going to get so close to our home planet that it will pass between the Earth and the moon.
According to scientists, that 2135 close encounter will alter the asteroid’s orbit significantly enough that it may put the space rock on a direct collision course with Earth later in that century.
If Bennu ever does directly cross paths with Earth, the collision could be absolutely catastrophic for the planet and everyone and everything that calls it home. If the Armageddon asteroid, at over 500 meters in diameter, smashes into the blue planet, we could be talking a dinosaur-level impact.
“That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century.”
Of course, because such a thing is completely unprecedented in human history, NASA scientists are working diligently to study the asteroid, both its path through space and what it’s made of. In order to learn everything they can about the Armageddon asteroid, NASA is launching a new space probe to investigate the asteroid up close and personal, reports the Sunday Times.
NASA’s new probe is called the Osiris-Rex, and it is expected to be launched in September. While Dante Lauretta, a NASA scientist, professor at Arizona University and the lead investigator in charge of the pending Armageddon asteroid mission thinks that the chances of Earth being impacted by the space rock are small, the outcome of such a collision would be so devastating that extensive study is needed in order to be as prepared as possible.
“It may be destined to cause immense suffering and death.”
@SPACEdotcom Well... Earth will either be advanced or destroyed...So...Who cares!— John Hancock (@CaptAmerica1787) August 1, 2016
The Osiris-Rex mission to the Armageddon asteroid will involve a handful of different phases, each with a different goal. The probe will map the asteroid, actually get close enough to the hurtling rock to collect scientific specimens, and then head back to Earth so that NASA can study the data and the hard samples retrieved from the asteroid.
The Armageddon asteroid was first discovered by the scientific community in 1999, and it immediately piqued scientist’s interests and became the subject of intensive study. This was due to several reasons, not the least of which being its size and potential to devastate Earth.
“Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, an ancient relic from the early solar system that is filled with organic molecules. Asteroids like Bennu may have seeded the early Earth with this material, contributing to the primordial soup from which life emerged.”
Scientists hope that better understanding the asteroid could give Earthlings the keys to dealing with a scenario in which it may directly cross the planet’s path. While 2135 seems like a long way off, the truth is that just over a century isn’t much time when it comes to fending off a potentially world-ending asteroid.
NASA’s Osiris-Rex is expected to reach the Armageddon asteroid Bennu by 2018. It will then spend 12 months studiously investigating the asteroid itself. The probe will be looking into the chemical composition of the rock as well as its geology. NASA also hopes that close-up study of the asteroid may also help planetary scientists to figure out what factors contribute to the observed orbital changes of the asteroid.
After the Osiris-Rex probe completes its direct study of Bennu, it is complete its mission by returning to Earth by 2023. If all is successful with the mission, NASA scientists will have over 100 years to study the Armageddon asteroid before its 2135 flyby.
[Image via Shutterstock]