NASA to launch a probe to study an asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth

The asteroid Bennu is on a direct collision course for Earth! Luckily, it’s not due to strike for another century or so, but that’s still a problem that’ll be upon us all too soon. You know how time flies. Realizing this, NASA are all set to launch a probe at the incoming asteroid so we at least know a bit more about the thing that will eventually kill us.

The probe, known as OSIRIS-REx is set to launch on the 8th of September, and will take over two years to arrive at its destination. The plan is for OSIRIS-Rex to spend 505 days producing a detailed map of the asteroid’s surface from a distance of five kilometres away. Once it’s done with that, it will travel closer to the asteroid in order to collect a sample from the surface.

OSIRIS-REx will gather around 4.4 pounds of gravel and dust from the surface, hopefully. The mission is not without is risk, as the probe will have to travel as close as five meters to the surface of the asteroid. Not only must it avoid contaminating the surface of the asteroid with its thrusters, it must also avoid crashing into the asteroid itself. Making the mission even shakier is the fact that this will all be automated; OSIRIS-REx will be too far from Earth to be controlled remotely.

However, if it’s successful, the probe will be back with us by 2023 when NASA hope to study the sample to learn more about Bennu. Asteroids of its ilk have existed since the formation of the solar system, and NASA are keen to study the ancient molecules it is sure to contain; molecules which are no longer present on Earth.

Not only will the results be fascinating, they might just be of some help to our great-great-grandkids in the 22nd century, who will face the very real possibility that Bennu is going to slam right into them at speed. And while it’s not big enough to cause an apocalypse, it’s definitely going to leave a mark.