U.S. space agency NASA is all set to launch an unmanned spacecraft in September which will land on the much talked about asteroid Bennu in August 2018. The purpose of the $800 million OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) mission is to collect rock samples from the asteroid and bring them back to the Earth for research purpose, reported Space.com.
The NASA spacecraft will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on September 8. The scientists are hoping that the asteroid sample will provide more insight into the evolution of the solar system and the begging of life on Earth. The spacecraft will spend six years surveying Bennu and will return back in 2023. Discovered in 1999, the asteroid in question is 1,600 feet in diameter and travels at an average speed of 63,000 miles per hour.
Recently, there were rumors of a possible collision of Bennu with our planet leading to tremendous destruction. The asteroid crosses Earth's orbit every six years and it gets closer each time. It is believed that the asteroid may possibly enter a "keyhole" between the Earth and the moon in more than 100 years from now and this may potentially change the asteroid's orbit and place it on course for the Earth.
OSIRIS-REx principal investigator Dante Lauretta, of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, said that there's nothing much to be worried about as Bennu has a mere 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth sometime late in the 22nd century, according to ABC News.
However, Lauretta said that if in case such a collision happens in future, its impact would be equivalent to triggering 3 billion tons of high explosives, which is about 200 times the strength of the atomic bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan. He is hopeful that by the time that Bennu could strike, NASA will likely have the technology to destroy it.
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