In an eerie coincidence, Asteroid Bennu was discovered on September 11 – the same day the iconic structures were razed in an Al-Qaeda-inspsired terrorist attack.
The asteroid, formally designated as 101955 Bennu, is blasting through space at 63,000 miles per hour and experts have warned of “dire” consequences if the 79 billion kilogram rock smashes into our planet.
The astronomers who identified Bennu in 1999 estimated the freezing sphere of rock has a diameter of around 492 meters, making it extremely similar in size to the original World Trade Centre’s North and South Towers.
Despite weighing in at the equivalent of 1,664 times as heavy as the Titanic, the asteroid is relatively small size in celestial terms.
But the speed at which the Bennu is travelling, if it were to collide with the earth, could cause untold damage.
Fortunately, the chances of the rock actually impacting with our planet are relatively slim, with experts estimating a 1 in 2,700 chance of Bennu hitting earth on September 25, 2135.
However less likely occurrences have come to pass, with punters initially being offered 5000 to 1 odds on newly-promoted Leicester City being crowned champions of the UK’s Premier League – a competition they defied all expectations to eventually win.
If Bennu does find itself on a collision course with Earth, NASA has warned there is little that could be done to prevent the impact.
The space agency is experimenting with a range of high-tech anti-asteroid craft designed to prevent a collision.
Experts hope their Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response craft will either act as as battering ram to shunt incoming asteroids off course, or blast them into pieces using nuclear weapons.
But the size of Bennu has ruled out the first option, and the prospect of obliterating it with nukes would send radioactive debris and smaller chunks of rock showering to Earth.
The asteroid responsible for the extension of the dinosaurs which smashed into the earth some 65 million years ago was far bigger than 101955 Bennu.
But its impact prompted a nuclear winter which blocked out the sun and caused temperatures to plummet for decades.
While Bennu would unlikely cause damage on such a massive scale, it would still have the potential to unleash the power of 1,200 megatons of energy on impact – 80,000 times that of the nuclear bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.
Kirsten Howley, a physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has coauthored a report on the potentially catastrophic results of an impact.
She said: “The chance of an impact appears slim now, but the consequences would be dire.
“This study aims to help us shorten the response timeline when we do see a clear and present danger so we can have more options to deflect it.
“The ultimate goal is to be ready to protect life on Earth.”
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NASA asteroid WARNING: When will Asteroid EB4 skim dangerously close to Earth?
Asteroid EB4 is creeping ever closer to the unaware planet with every passing second, threatening a close orbital approach as the asteroid rushes towards Earth at breakneck of nearly 13kms or more than 29,000mph.
Scientists estimate the monstrous asteroid ranges anywhere from 21 to 52-metres in diameter.
The latest orbital data collected by NASA shows EB4 is on a path which will skim past Earth in the early morning hours of Friday, March 16.
According to NASA’s close approach data, EB4 will arrive around 5.59am UTC.
EB4 is expected to pass the planet within 1.5 lunar distances or 577,500.9 km. This means the asteroid will approach almost as close as the moon.
Thankfully there appears to be no threat of immediate danger and the asteroid will swing past Earth without contact.
In fact EB4 has a rating of -5.94 on NASA’s Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale. Palermo Scales below -2 indicate events with “no likely consequences”.
EB4 has not even made it onto NASA’s list of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).
Asteroids are categorised as PHAs if they are bigger than 100m in diameter and run the risk of coming closer to Earth than than 0.05 AU, or 7,479,894 km.
The US space agency explained: “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth.
“Specifically, all asteroids with an Earth Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less and an absolute magnitude (H) of 22.0 or less are considered PHAs.
“In other words, asteroids that can’t get any closer to the Earth (i.e., MOID) than 0.05 au (roughly 7,480,000 km or 4,650,000 mi) or are smaller than about 140 m (~500 ft) in diameter (i.e., H = 22.0 with assumed albedo of 14%) are not considered PHAs.”
The reality of the matter is that these asteroid approaches are actually very common and hundreds of tonnes of space debris crash into Earth every single day.
In fact between now and the end of March another seven notable asteroids will swing by the planet.
Thereafter another nine asteroids will zoom past Earth in May.
NASA said: “Every day, Earth is bombarded with more than 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles.
“Every 2,000 years or so, a meteoroid the size of a football field hits Earth and causes significant damage to the area.
“Only once every few million years, an object large enough to threaten Earth’s civilisation comes along. Impact craters on Earth, the moon and other planetary bodies are evidence of these occurrences.”
The next asteroid to fly by Earth is Asteroid 2018 EC1, which will show up on Sunday March 18, within 4.4 lunar distances.