An asteroid 99 metres in diameter will zoom by Earth on August 16, travelling at a staggering speed of 31,317mph. But while NASA is not worried about the space rock known as PJ, the US space agency is concerned about a much larger relative of its. NASA has sent back images of four potential sites on Asteroid Bennu, the monster 500 metre space rock which its OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft has recently arrived at.
The sites have been targeted for OSIRIS-Rex to collect samples from and return them to Earth by 2023.
However, the space agency is at Bennu for another reason – there are small fears that the asteroid could come crashing into Earth within a few centuries.
Experts say there is a one in 24,000 chance this space rock could come crashing into our planet within 120 years time, but this depends on the Yarkovsky effect.
The Yarkovsky effect is when an asteroid or celestial body changes its orbit due to small push of heat, either from itself expelling gasses or other celestial bodies including the Sun.
Part of the reason NASA is sending the OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft there is to gather more information about the space rock which is 500 metres in length.
NASA fears that the asteroid, which has the potential to wipe out a country on Earth, could hit our planet within the next 120 years, with the next close flyby in 2135.
The mission will give vital information on how to deflect asteroids from their collision course with Earth.
But NASA reiterates that while there is a small chance Earth could be impacted, “over millions of years, of all of the planets, Bennu is most likely to hit Venus.”
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Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson, said: “We knew that Bennu would surprise us, so we came prepared for whatever we might find.
“As with any mission of exploration, dealing with the unknown requires flexibility, resources and ingenuity.
“The OSIRIS-REx team has demonstrated these essential traits for overcoming the unexpected throughout the Bennu encounter.”
By collecting samples, NASA hopes to unlock the secrets of the solar system, as Bennu is a remnant of our galactic neighbourhoods formation some 4.6 billion years ago.
Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-Rex said: “The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system.
“When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system.”