Sunday, July 31, 2016

OSIRIS-REx: How to Study a Killer Asteroid

To know your enemy, you must study and understand your enemy.  Same applies for killer asteroids right?

Nasa is planning on studying a monster asteroid that has been slowly getting closer and closer to Earth ever since it was discovered in 1999.  The asteroid, named "Bennu" crosses Earth's orbit every 6 years.  Granted, it's not like the asteroid is passing by Earth so closely that you can see it as it streaks through the sky.  In 2135, the asteroid will fly between the Earth and the Moon however, so the slight potential this asteroid has in hitting Earth increases every time it passes by.  And with passing between the Earth and the Moon, the asteroid could possibly be altered by Earth's gravity and strike the Earth in that century.

“Bennu falls on the boundary, in terms of size, for an object capable of causing a global catastrophe,” Professor Mark Bailey of Northern Ireland’s Armagh Observatory said.  Bennu is about 487 metres in diameter and travels around the sun at an average of 101,000 km per hour.  That size and that speed could result in an impact that is almost 200 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

NASA plans to use the Osiris-Rex probe to fly to Bennu in September and study the asteroid.  In order to do so, Osiris-Rex will spend a year orbiting the sun to build up its speed before it slingshots back around Earth, using the planet’s gravity to align its orbit with the asteroid’s.  Once the probe reaches the asteroid, it will study the surface and the composition of the asteroid.  In addition, the probe will hover over the surface of the asteroid, obtain samples, and then fly back to Earth.  “Bennu is a carbonaceous asteroid, an ancient relic from the early solar system that is filled with organic molecules,” said Lauretta. “Asteroids like Bennu may have seeded the early Earth with this material, contributing to the primordial soup from which life emerged.”  So for scientists, this is a big discovery in identifying what the asteroid is made of.

Although the asteroid is a long ways away from striking the Earth, the data obtained from this solar expedition will provide the future with great information.  If the asteroid does indeed one day make its way into a possible contact with Earth, we will at least know what its made of, the exact size, and how fast its going.  This could prevent a catastrophic collision and save mankind in the future.

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