In the last seven years, NASA’s been sweating bullets over OSIRIS-REx, a mission that’s been playing cosmic tag with the asteroid Bennu. Some folks have been spooked, claiming Bennu might pull an Armageddon act on us come September 24, 2182. But hold your horses, how much of that is hogwash?
Initially, the eggheads pegged Bennu’s chances of Earth rendezvous at roughly 1 in 2,700 for 2182. However, fresh studies on this wandering space rock’s path are singing a different tune. It seems this celestial troublemaker won’t be crashing our party until well past 2300.
Now, what’s Bennu, you ask? Picture a wonky spinning top made of space debris that’s been twirling through the solar system for eons. At first, we thought it was one sturdy chunk of rock held together by gravity. But, surprise, surprise! When OSIRIS-REx dropped by in 2020, we found it to be as solid as a doughnut hole.
While OSIRIS-REx did us a solid by fetching some asteroid souvenirs, the looming threat of Bennu doing the collision cha-cha with Earth has everyone’s eyebrows raised. Given the size of this hunk of space debris and that ominous date I mentioned earlier, it’s hard not to get jittery.
Now, let’s get one thing straight. Bennu isn’t the world-ender you see in Hollywood flicks. A Bennu bash on Earth would pack a wallop, but it’s a 600-mile radius kind of wallop. That’s a whole lot of boom, no doubt. So, NASA’s rocket scientists are on a quest to unravel where Bennu’s cosmic taxi is headed over the next 300 years during its celestial spin cycle.
As we get cozier with this asteroid, NASA tells us we’re getting better at reading its map. The space agency’s saying we’re in the clear until 2300. Those earlier doomsday dates were like first drafts, and as we dissect this asteroid’s dance moves in the cosmos, things change.
So, here’s the kicker. Bennu won’t be knocking on Earth’s door in 2182, but the dice are rolling, and now the odds of a rendezvous by 2300 are about 1 in 1,750. The plot thickens, my friends. But don’t sweat it just yet. With missions like D.A.R.T. flexing their cosmic muscles, we might just learn how to give Bennu the celestial sidestep if push comes to shove.