Your great-grandchildren may have one more thing to worry about.
There is a “slim” chance that an asteroid may strike Earth in the year 2135, but the consequences “would be dire,” experts say.
The threat is real enough that scientists have designed a “conceptual spacecraft” that they hope would at some point knock the asteroid out of harm’s way, if necessary.
The asteroid “Bennu” has a 1-in-2,700 chance of colliding with Earth on Sept. 25, 2135, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said in a press release. The California lab is part of national planetary defense team that also includes NASA and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Bennu is more than five football fields in diameter and weighs 1,664 times more than the Titanic, according to the LLNL. The “kinetic energy” of the impact would be the equivalent to 80,000 times the energy of the Hiroshima bomb, according to the lab.
“The chance of an impact appears slim now, but the consequences would be dire,” LLNL physicist Kirsten Howley said in the recent study published in Acta Astronautica. “This study aims to help us shorten the response timeline when we do see a clear and present danger so we can have more options to deflect it. The ultimate goal is to be ready to protect life on Earth.”
In order to do that, the planetary defense team have conceptualized the “HAMMER,” a 9-meter, 9-ton spacecraft. The “Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response” vehicle could serve as a “battering ram” or a transport vehicle for nukes.
NASA archive photos
The objective would be to give the asteroid a “nudge” and change its course.
“The push you need to give it is very small if you deflect the asteroid 50 years out,” said Howley, co-author of the study. “But that far out, you’re likely to think the percentage of being hit would be 1 percent. The probability of a Bennu impact may be 1 in 2,700 today, but that will almost certainly change — for better or worse — as we gather more data about its orbit. Delay is the greatest enemy of any asteroid deflection mission. That’s why there’s urgency in getting viable deflection platforms on the shelf today.”
The longer the wait, the more launches would be needed, according to experts.
“If we only had 10 years from launch, we would need to hit Bennu with hundreds of tons of HAMMER mass just to barely deflect it off of an Earth-impacting path, requiring dozens of successful launches and impact at the asteroid,” study co-author Megan Bruck Syal said.
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