Scientists have made a startling prediction about an asteroid named Bennu. They believe it could collide with Earth, unleashing a force equivalent to 22 atomic bombs.
Asteroids, those rocky objects orbiting the Sun, are abundant in our solar system, with many residing in the asteroid belt, located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, according to NASA.
Usually, small meteors burn up harmlessly in Earth's atmosphere, but some are more worrisome.
Bennu, a massive asteroid about a third of a mile wide—half the size of the one thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs—has scientists concerned.
While it might not cause a worldwide catastrophe, the prospect is unsettling. Scientists project this potential collision with Earth to occur on September 24, 2182.
It's a long way off, but NASA is not taking any chances. They're already well into their plans to divert it, reportedly in the final stages of doing so.
Rich Burns, the project manager overseeing OSIRIS-REx at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, shares: "We are now in the final leg of this seven-year journey, and it feels very much like the last few miles of a marathon, with a confluence of emotions like pride and joy coexisting with a determined focus to complete the race well."
Seven years ago, NASA dispatched a spacecraft to gather samples from the asteroid, and they are poised to return this week.
Nicola Fox, who serves as the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, offers an explanation:
"Pristine material from asteroid Bennu will help shed light on the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago and perhaps even on how life on Earth began."
As the spacecraft carrying samples from Bennu re-enters Earth's atmosphere, it will endure temperatures that are twice as scorching as lava. Its anticipated landing is set for Utah, USA, aided by a parachute.
While Bennu commands NASA's attention, it's not the sole asteroid under their watchful gaze. NASA is reportedly monitoring six other celestial bodies.
Among them, the most prominent is Toutatis, an asteroid estimated to span three miles in width. NASA's calculations indicate that Toutatis won't make a close approach to Earth until the year 2562.
Toutatis triggered concerns back in 2004 when it had a near miss with our planet, passing at a distance four times that between Earth and the Moon.