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Monday, August 1, 2016

NASA to study asteroid, potential threat

Unmanned craft to collect samples from passing object, one which could devastate Earth in 22nd century

Over the last week the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] discussed its upcoming mission to study the asteroid Bennu. An unmanned craft will launch on September 8, and once it reaches the celestial body will collect samples, for a multitude of research purposes; the University of Arizona is also heavily involved in the project.

While the research will include investigating origins, scientists will also be examining Bennu's trajectory; the asteroid, which passes by us once every six years, poses a cataclysmic threat to Earth. While normally cautious with projections, officials admit that Bennu has a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth in the late 22nd century.

Bennu is projected to come closest to us between 2175 and 2196, with it moving closer to Earth with each pass. By 2135 they predict it will be passing between our planet and the moon, which is, in astronomical terms (as one link above points out), the proverbial stone's throw away.

NASA considers the threat to be both distant and remote, and are focusing this study on the origins aspect. They believe they will answer a treasure trove of questions, from how our solar system developed to whether there was ever life on Mars; the craft will rendezvous with the asteroid in 2018, and return from its voyage in 2023.

Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Speculation suggests that there is more to this than meets the eye. NASA has a history of being notoriously cagey with information on threats from space; add to that a level of arrogance about their 'facts' and their willingness to admit that there is even a remote threat on some future date makes me nervous.

Speaking of that arrogance, remember that even in transparency NASA has been flat-out wrong in the past; despite how they play masters-of-the-universe, predicting how celestial bodies behave is not an exact science. Too many factors play into each forecast, and with Bennu getting closer with each six-year pass I fear the threat from this asteroid is one we may have to face, not our great-great-great grandchildren.

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