Recently, the news of many asteroids zipping past Earth have flooded the internet, and people have been particularly worried over the “potentially hazardous” text standing next to an asteroid name. However, it’s only a way for NASA to classify asteroids by size. Nevertheless, NASA scientists are working on a plan to design an asteroid-destroying spacecraft that could take care of asteroids that could harm our planet in the distant future.
This idea came as there is the chance of an asteroid hitting our planet in 2135. Although it has only a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth, the scientists still want to ensure to take care of it if it poses a danger for Earth. The asteroid is known as Bennu. At the moment, it’s orbiting the sun at about 54 million miles from Earth. The asteroid measures 1,600-feet-wide, and weighs 74-billion pounds. While the odds of the celestial object hitting Earth are tiny, the U.S. government won’t sit idly by if the slightest risk exists. NASA has collaborated with the National Nuclear Security Administration, and two Energy Department weapons labs to invent an asteroid-destroying spacecraft which could blow up Bennu in case it approaches too close.
According to the report in Buzzfeed News, the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response spacecraft, also known as HAMMER for short, could use two methods to destroy the asteroid. In case the asteroid is smaller, the spacecraft would smash the object with an 8.8-ton “impactor.” On the other hand, if it’s too big, the asteroid-destroying spacecraft would use a nuclear weapon to destroy it.
David Dearborn, physicist from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told Buzzfeed News that there is even a possibility of multiple HAMMER spacecraft throwing themselves at the asteroid in order to slow it down or change its course. The initial idea for the spacecraft was first introduced in 2010, in a report published in the journal Acta Astronautica, which talks about the defense of Earth from near-Earth objects (NEO) that could pose a danger to the planet.
“The two realistic responses considered are the use of a spacecraft functioning as either a kinetic impactor or a nuclear explosive carrier to deflect the approaching NEO,” it was written in the report.
However, there is a possibility that the asteroid-destroying spacecraft may never be built. Furthermore, NASA didn’t provide a cost estimate for the project. There’s also the OSIRIS-REx mission of the agency, that is moving towards Bennu, which cost $800 million.
The scientists working on HAMMER will reveal their design in May 2018 at the Catastrophic Disruption in the Solar System workshop in Japan. Also, in case NASA and other institutions get approved to continue with the design for HAMMER, it’s important to remember that the odds of the asteroid hitting earth are as low as 0.0003%.
Of course, it’s of the utmost importance to be prepared for the asteroid. However, it is highly unlikely that Bennu will cause some apocalyptic scenario to Earth, so really no need to worry.