NASA warns over ‘most dangerous space rock’ heading to Earth
An asteroid, twice the size of the infamous Apophis is set to strike Earth in the future – and researchers have warned NASA that the consequences of inaction could be disastrous.
Asteroid 101955 Bennu, formally known as 1999 RQ36, is a carbonaceous space rock in the Apollo group, first discovered by NASA’s LINEAR project on September 11, 1999.
It is a potentially hazardous object listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale. The space rock is currently the target of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission which is intended to return samples to Earth in 2023, which will help researchers determine its possible outcome.
However, investigators have already warned the space agency that it could be devastating if they do not act. YouTube channel TheTopMan revealed in May how a team of experts rated the chances of impact during a mini-series on possible threats to Earth.
The video explained: “Asteroid 1999 RQ36, [set to strike in] the year 2182, is considered the most dangerous asteroid in the universe.
“This rocky body measures approximately 560 metres in diameter and was discovered in 1999.
“According to scientific studies it is estimated that it will impact the Earth in the year 2182.
“According to a study by scientist Maria Eugenia Sansaturio the 1999 asteroid may or may not impact the Earth.”
Dr Sansaturio warned in a report for the Solar System journal Icarus that there is a good chance of the asteroid striking.
She told Universe Today in 2010: “The total impact probability of asteroid 1999 RQ36 can be estimated as 0.00092, approximately one-in-a-thousand chance, but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182.”
There is a fair amount of orbital uncertainty, due to the gravitational influences on the asteroid when it passes by the Earth and other objects.
It could also gain a minimal amount of influence from the Yarkovsky effect, which is an unbalanced thermal radiation from sunlight hitting one side of the asteroid and not the other that produces a tiny acceleration.
This effect had not previously been taken into account by NASA.
Dr Sansaturio added: “The consequence of this complex dynamic is not just the likelihood of a comparatively large impact, but also that a realistic deflection procedure, or path deviation could only be made before the impact in 2080, and more easily, before 2060.
“If this object had been discovered after 2080, the deflection would require a technology that is not currently available.
“Therefore, this example suggests that impact monitoring, which up to date does not cover more than 80 or 100 years, may need to encompass more than one century”.