Asteroid Bennu
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
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NASA announced that on Sept. 22, 2135, there is a chance an asteroid will slam into the Earth. Named Bennu, the third-of-a-mile-across asteroid will have an impact energy equivalent to the entire arsenal of U.S. nuclear ballistic missiles.

Asteroid Search

In 1998, NASA was directed by the Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology to look for possible threats of asteroids larger than a kilometer. It set up a program called the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. It oversees studies of mitigation efforts but also the near Earth orbit, or NEO, observations program. The Center for NEO Studies is dedicated to watching the skies, looking for large space rocks in orbits that could intersect the Earth.

NASA has discovered approximately 18,000 near-Earth objects, with nearly 1,000 of them being over a kilometer in size. Those, of course, are the most dangerous ones. The NEO search program has existed in various forms since the 1970s.

HAMMER Time

In the asteroid-deflection business, warning is everything. A small amount of force applied to an asteroid many years before a predicted impact can easily alter the asteroid’s orbit, while a last minute intervention could require so much force that it might well be impossible to avoid the impact

A team of engineers devised a conceptual design of the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response vehicle, or HAMMER. It is a hypothetical spacecraft that could either ram into Bennu or target it with a nuclear device, either of which it is hoped would deflect the asteroid away from Earth.

Previous Asteroids

In 2013, a meteor about 60 feet across hit the Earth near Chelyabinsk, Russia. This small rock did considerable damage. It released about 30 times as much energy as Hiroshima, blowing out windows and causing injuries to 1,500. Sixty-five million years ago, a meteor about 10 miles in diameter hit the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out most life on Earth. This meteor left a crater about 100 miles across.

Will Bennu hit Earth in 2135? Maybe.

Of course, when it comes to asteroids, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

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