Hollywood likes to dream up images of the Earth dissolving in fiery flames after a hit from a huge asteroid, as seen in movies like "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon". But now it seems these dreams could turn into a nightmare for our planet. The Telegraph reports that NASA is considering sending a probe in 2106 to land on an asteroid that may threaten our planet in the not-so-distant future. Hopes are that the probe would collect enough information to help deter the asteroid, which is scheduled to fly by Earth in 2182.
This asteroid, dubbed 1999 RQ36, is a 1,800-foot-wide asteroid that has a one-in-1,000 chance of hitting Earth. And just what would happen if it did? Scientists predict that it could hit and hit big. Clark Chapman is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. As he told National Geographic, “It would be an enormous impact, like hundreds of the biggest nuclear bombs ever built exploding at once, creating a crater maybe 10 kilometers across.”
NASA, which calls this flyer a “potentially hazardous asteroid,” says it will pass within 280,000 miles of our planet. Scientists estimate there are about 100,000 asteroids and comets near Earth and that 1,000 of them could be potentially dangerous. This is one of them. They believe that a probe would enable scientists to sample its rock and better determine its trajectory.
So NASA is taking action — to a certain extent. The agency is developing a mission called OSIRIS-Rex, which would blast off towards the asteroid in 2106. But the mission is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is dedicated to “exploring the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions that will conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations designed to enhance our understanding of the solar system.”
Unfortunately, the New Frontiers program is short on cash. So OSIRIS-Rex is one of two finalists in competition for funding — the other being a manned mission to Venus. NASA expects to announce the winner of the competition next year.
For further reading: