NASA slightly improves the odds that asteroid Bennu hits Earth. Humanity will be ready regardless


Salon 15 August, 2021 - 09:00am 142 views

This week, scientists published an updated estimate related to the trajectory of this particular asteroid of concern, Bennu, in the journal Icarus. Bennu's estimated chance of hitting Earth prior to the year 2300 is now 1 in 1,750 — slightly greater than the previous probability of 1 in 2,700, but still quite low. NASA discovered Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid about 500 meters in diameter, in 1999, and has been keeping track of it ever since. In fact, it is one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system, though its likelihood of hitting Earth is still pretty slim.

Yet the news about the updated estimate isn't of note due to the revised probability, but because the technology used to calculate it is believed to be the most precise estimate of an asteroid's future trajectory ever calculated.

Using NASA's Deep Space Network and state-of-the-art computer models, researchers were able to further minimize any uncertainties about Bennu thanks to the observations made by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which is now en route to return to Earth after studying Bennu up close.

"We carry out this endeavor through continuing astronomical surveys that collect data to discover previously unknown objects and refine our orbital models for them," said Kelly Fast, program manager for the Near-Earth Object Observations Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The OSIRIS-REx mission has provided an extraordinary opportunity to refine and test these models, helping us better predict where Bennu will be when it makes its close approach to Earth more than a century from now."

As Salon previously reported, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft also made headlines for collecting samples on Bennu, which scientists believe may have had water on its surface earlier in its history. This is all part of NASA's Planetary Defense group, whose sole purpose is to discover and monitor asteroids and comets that might pose a risk to Earth.

Data collected by OSIRIS-REx gave researchers an opportunity to test their models and calculate when Bennu would be most likely to hit Earth. Indeed, the data from OSIRIS-REx allows researchers to "test the limits of our models and calculate the future trajectory of Bennu to a very high degree of certainty through 2135," said study lead Davide Farnocchia, of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), in a statement. "We've never modeled an asteroid's trajectory to this precision before."

Specifically, researchers estimate that Sept. 24, 2182, will be the most significant single date in terms of a potential impact, with an impact probability of 0.037 percent. Even though the odds are low and no one today will be alive then, Dr. Ed Lu, Executive Director of the Asteroid Institute, said Bennu isn't a threat to Earth precisely because of our careful tracking of it. Lu is more concerned about are asteroids that aren't on NASA's radar.

"Most of the asteroids in our solar system that could do great damage should they hit the Earth are untracked," Lu said. "Those asteroids are large enough to destroy a city should they hit, but 99% roughly, of those, are untracked — zero data."

Lu compared tracking Bennu to tracking a hurricane, as the models are somewhat similar given the constant variability. ​​Just as weather forecasting has come a long way, astronomy advancements over the last several years — including new telescopes and relevant missions, like the Japanese Space Agency's probe currently exploring the Ryugu asteroid — are preparing the world for more precise measurements when it comes to asteroid tracking. In general, asteroids have been notoriously hard to track.

"They are difficult to track because they're orbiting the sun just like the Earth . . . their distances can be quite far from the Earth, and they are small and dark," said Lu. "But the issue behind tracking is both not just seeing them, but seeing them often enough so that you can accurately determine the trajectory."

Scientists are already testing technology that would essentially nudge a potentially dangerous asteroid away from Earth. One mission, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft, is expected to launch sometime after November 24, 2021, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Once in space, the spacecraft — a joint project of NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory — will travel for ten months to reach the Didymos asteroid system. The spacecraft will then literally ram into Didymos' smaller asteroid moonlet, Dimorphos, to change its orbital path.

Rivkin said in the case of a real life emergency in the future, scientists would possibly "change the speeds of asteroids a bit more."

"But our best information favors doing a gentle tap applied decades ahead of time to avert an Earth impact when possible, rather than a forceful shove applied at the last minute," Rivkin told Salon.

Later, the European Space Agency's HERA mission will conduct follow-up observations to survey DART's collision, and turn this experiment into a repeatable planetary defense strategy.

"Together these missions allow us to better understand how we can protect humanity from future asteroid impacts," said Danica Remy, President of the B612 Foundation, a nonprofit whose goal is to protect Earth from asteroid impacts.

But what about those pesky, unidentified asteroids that have escaped observations? 

"The best thing the public can do right now is to advocate for increasing asteroid discovery rates and to provide funding for asteroid discovery and deflecting programs," Remy added.

Nicole Karlis is a staff writer at Salon. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

Read full article at Salon

NASA slightly raises odds that large asteroid will impact Earth in the next 200 years

Just The News 14 August, 2021 - 08:30am

The "total impact probability [of the asteroid] through the year 2300 is about 1 in 1,750," NASA said in a press release; that figure is up from an earlier estimate of about one in 2,700. 

Scientists "were also able to identify Sept. 24, 2182, as the most significant single date in terms of a potential impact," the space agency said in the release. 

Researchers are also attempting to determine whether or not Bennu will at some point pass through a "gravitational keyhole," an astronomical phenomenon which can alter the trajectory of asteroids; if Bennu is subject to such forces during a close approach in about a hundred years, it may impact Earth at a future date. 

© 2021 Bentley Media Group, LLC

NASA has just raised the odds of this meteor striking Earth

Euronews 13 August, 2021 - 06:16pm

But fear not. While the probability of a strike over the next century or two has risen from 1 in 2,700 to 1 in 1,750, those remain reassuringly low odds.

The adjusted odds are based on data amassed by NASA’s Osiris-Rex spacecraft, which has been probing the asteroid since 2018.

The spacecraft collected enough data over two and a half years to help scientists better predict the asteroid's orbital path well into the future.

The findings should also help in charting the course of other asteroids which will give Earth a fighting chance if and when another hazardous space rock heads our way.

Additional sources • Video Editor - Joanna Adhem

NASA says this asteroid won’t crash to Earth and end mankind. Well, they’re pretty sure

Deseret News 13 August, 2021 - 05:54pm

The Bennu asteroid, which stands as tall as the Empire State Building, most likely would collide with Earth on Sept. 24, 2182. But NASA isn’t too worried

An asteroid is not going to crash to Earth and send humans the way of the dinosaurs in a couple of hundred years. Well, probably not.

The department of America’s space program tasked with watching the cosmos for giant asteroids that could be dangerous to Earth’s existence has some good news and bad news.

But NASA says that is unlikely — at least in the next couple of centuries —and that technology has made the agency better at predicting a potential Armageddon.

.@NASA’s #OSIRISREx mission is currently on its way back to earth with a sample from #asteroid Bennu, and the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at @NASAJPL used data during OSIRIS-REx’s visit to help refine Bennu’s future orbit through the year 2300.

Bennu will make a “close approach” to Earth in 2135, but won’t careen into Earth in Hollywood fashion at that time, NASA said in a recent press release.

Scientists have been able to determine — more accurately than they have in the past — that based on studying Bennu’s orbit, the “total impact probability through the year 2300 is about 1 in 1,750 (or 0.057%), NASA said.

On average, Bennu — which stands about as tall as the Empire State Building — stays about 98,000,000 miles from Earth.

It’s unclear if NASA was being ironic when it nicknamed its asteroid-studying flyer so similarly to what could have been a now-extinct dinosaur (the Osiris Rex has yet to make an appearance in a “Jurassic Park” movie).

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NASA boosts impact risk from 'potentially hazardous' asteroid Bennu

Yahoo! Voices 13 August, 2021 - 05:05pm

Over a century from now, in 2135, a half-kilometre-wide asteroid named 101955 Bennu will pass between the Earth and the Moon. While there is absolutely no chance of an impact with Bennu at that time, the close encounter throws uncertainty into the predictions. As a result, there's no saying for sure that Earth will be safe from Bennu afterward.

Before NASA sent their OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Bennu, astronomers tracked asteroid Bennu using telescopes. Their observations gave us very accurate calculations of Bennu's orbit. The relatively close passes of Bennu in 1999, 2005 and 2011 helped with this. Although it was officially classified as a "Potentially Hazardous Asteroid" (PHA), NASA could rule out any possibility of a Bennu impact for the next 100+ years.

However, the September 2135 encounter added an extra complication. The asteroid comes very close to Earth at that time. On September 24 of that year, its absolute minimum distance could be around 110,000 km from the planet's surface or less than one-third the distance to the Moon. As it flies past, it will encounter one of several 'gravitational keyholes'. As it passes through one of these tiny points in space, Earth's gravity will tug on the asteroid and alter its orbit around the Sun.

Even with the carefully plotted orbit of Bennu, the minor uncertainties made it challenging to tell which 'keyhole' it would pass through during that 2135 flyby. Thus, there was no way to know with any certainty which orbit it would end up on afterward.

This was of great concern to scientists because it introduced over 150 possible impacts, with a cumulative 1 in 2,700 impact chance between 2135 and 2300. The most likely impact would be on September 24, 2182.

With OSIRIS-REx following along with the asteroid for over two years, though, it gave scientists an unprecedented chance to closely track the influence of the Yarkovsky effect.

The Yarkovsky effect is a tiny, constant 'push' that an asteroid receives as it radiates heat into space.

According to Davide Farnocchia from the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, who is the lead author of a new study published this week, the force of this 'push' on Bennu is equivalent to about the weight of three grapes.

"Think about that, just three grapes," Farnocchia said in a NASA teleconference on Wednesday. "Because this acceleration is persistent, its effect builds up over time, and it becomes very significant by the time we get to 2135."

"The OSIRIS-REx data give us so much more precise information, we can test the limits of our models and calculate the future trajectory of Bennu to a very high degree of certainty through 2135," Farnocchia said in a NASA press release. "We've never modelled an asteroid's trajectory to this precision before."

Based on their study of the Yarkovsky effect on Bennu, Farnocchia and his colleagues calculated an updated cumulative probability of a Bennu impact between 2135 and 2200. Instead of 1 in 2,700, the chance is now just 1 in 1,750. The individual chance of an impact on September 24, 2182, is now 1 in 2,700.

It should be noted that these probabilities are tiny.

A 1 in 1,750 chance is equal to a 0.057 per cent impact probability, while 1 in 2,700 is equivalent to 0.037 per cent. That means there's over a 99.94 per cent chance that Bennu will miss Earth on all the potential encounters it has towards the end of the 22nd century. Specifically for September 2182, there's a 99.96 per cent chance of a miss.

During their research, Farnocchia and the others accounted for every conceivable force that could affect Bennu's orbit. They even considered whether the Touch-and-Go (TAG) maneuver that netted NASA a sample of the asteroid was enough to alter its trajectory.

"The force exerted on Bennu's surface during the TAG event were tiny even in comparison to the effects of other small forces considered," Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in the press release. "TAG did not alter Bennu's likelihood of impacting Earth."

The next steps in determining Bennu's true potential as a threat to Earth will come in 2023 and 2037.

In 2023, OSIRIS-REx will swing past Earth. On its way past, it will drop off the sample it collected from Bennu's surface back in the Fall of 2020. As scientists examine these samples in the laboratory, we will learn more about Bennu's composition. This might provide information about how we could deflect such an asteroid on an impact trajectory.

In 2037, Bennu will be making its next close (but safe) flyby past Earth. During this pass, radio telescopes can gather radar data on the asteroid. These readings will help confirm the calculations made based on OSIRIS-REx's data and give us an even better estimate of its exact path for that 2135 encounter.

Whether you’re a professional astronomer or a novice, everyone knows the biggest barrier to gazing into deep space. High-quality telescopes are very expensive. Sure, plenty of cheap options are available through retailers like Amazon. But those telescopes will only take you so far. A professional-grade telescope that can give you stunning views of deep-space objects … The post eVscope eQuinox review: Stunning smart telescope lets your iPhone peer into deep space appeared first on BGR.

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'We shouldn't be worried about it too much': Asteroid Bennu (probably) won't clobber Earth in the next century 13 August, 2021 - 12:00am

But don't be alarmed: Scientists reported Wednesday that the odds are still quite low that Bennu will hit us in the next century.

"We shouldn't be worried about it too much," said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist with NASA's Center for Near Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who served as the study's lead author.

While the odds of a strike have risen from 1-in-2,700 to 1-in-1,750 over the next century or two, scientists now have a much better idea of Bennu's path thanks to NASA's Osiris-Rex spacecraft, according to Farnocchia.

"So I think that overall, the situation has improved," he told reporters.

The spacecraft is headed back to Earth on a long, roundabout loop after collecting samples from the large, spinning rubble pile of an asteroid, considered one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in our solar system. The samples are due here in 2023.

Before Osiris-Rex arrived at Bennu in 2018, telescopes provided solid insight into the asteroid, about one-third of a mile in diameter. The spacecraft collected enough data over 2½ years to help scientists better predict the asteroid's orbital path well into the future.

Their findings — published in the journal Icarus — should also help in charting the course of other asteroids and give Earth a better fighting chance if and when another hazardous space rock heads our way.

Before Osiris-Rex arrived on the scene, scientists put the odds of Bennu hitting Earth through the year 2200 at 1-in-2,700. Now it's 1-in-1,750 through the year 2300. The single most menacing day is Sept. 24, 2182.

Bennu will have a close encounter with Earth in 2135 when it passes within half the distance of the moon. Earth's gravity could tweak its future path and put it on a collision course with Earth in the 2200s — less likely now based on Osiris-Rex observations.

If Bennu did slam into Earth, it wouldn't wipe out life, dinosaur-style, but rather create a crater roughly 10 to 20 times the size of the asteroid, said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer. The area of devastation would be much bigger: as much as 100 times the size of the crater.

If an object Bennu's size hit the Eastern Seaboard, it "would pretty much devastate things up and down the coast," he told reporters.

Scientists already are ahead of the curve with Bennu, which was discovered in 1999. Finding threatening asteroids in advance increases the chances and options for pushing them out of our way, Johnson said.

"One hundred years from now, who knows what the technology is going to be?" he said.

In November, NASA plans to launch a mission to knock an asteroid off-course by hitting it. The experimental target will be the moonlet of a bigger space rock.

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