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NASA Reveals Higher Odds Of Asteroid Bennu Slamming Earth

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NASA Reveals Higher Odds Of Asteroid Bennu Slamming Earth

An asteroid the size of the Empire State Building has a higher chance of colliding with the Earth than previously thought, NASA scientists have revealed this week.

Said to be one of the most dangerous objects in the solar system, Asteroid Bennu will pass within 125,000 miles - half the distance of the Earth to the Moon - in the year 2135, with scientists predicting that there is a 1-in-1,750 (0.057%) chance that it could collide with Earth between now and the year 2300.

Those odds are actually slightly higher than the previous estimate of 1-in-2700 (0.037%) over a shorter period between now and 2200.

NASA calculated that the 24th September 2182 as the date in which the 500 meter-wide Bennu is most likely to crash into the Earth.

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But while the chances of a strike have risen over the next century or two, the improved probabilities come courtesy of NASA's OSIRIS-REX spacecraft, which has been on a five-year mission to study Bennu up close and collect rock samples for scientists to study back home.

Mosaic of Bennu created using observations made by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona
Mosaic of Bennu created using observations made by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The spacecraft left Bennu three months ago and is due to return to Earth sometime in 2023.

"It's not a significant change," said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, "I'm not any more concerned about Bennu than I was before. The impact probability remains really small."

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If Bennu did slam into Earth, although it wouldn't wipe out all life, dinosaur-style, it would create a crater roughly 10 to 20 times the size of the asteroid, said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defence 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.

"You will get little warning and will be vaporised, like sitting at ground zero of a large nuke. Nothing will survive," Dr David L Clements, of Imperial College London, claimed in a recent interview.

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NASA's OSIRIS-REx Discovers Sunlight Can Crack Rocks on Asteroid Bennu. Credit: PA
NASA's OSIRIS-REx Discovers Sunlight Can Crack Rocks on Asteroid Bennu. Credit: PA

"If it hit London then it's goodbye to London and everything and everyone in it, and significant damage to anything closer than Birmingham.

"The impact of Bennu hitting the Earth would be the equivalent of a very large nuclear bomb going off," he added.

The situation wouldn't be much cheerier 10 miles from the impact, either.

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The strike would create so much heat that you and everything around you would be enveloped in flames.

"You'll be incinerated by the thermal flash from a fireball 275 times brighter than the Sun," said Dr Clements.

"Clothing, wood, trees, grass ignite and you'll suffer third-degree burning from the flash before the ignited fires get you. It will be a firestorm.

"The blast will destroy pretty much all buildings and 90 per cent of trees will be blown down.

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He added: "The blast arrives about 50 seconds after the flash so everything will be on fire already."

Thankfully, even in the worst case scenario, there's little to no chance that anyone living today will ever have to worry about an encounter with this fearsome object.

Topics: World News, Nasa, space

Tom Sanders
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