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OSIRIS-REx Probe Will Intercept a Potentially Dangerous Asteroid in 2018

Asteroid 101955 Bennu (aka 1999 RQ36) may only have an estimated 1 in 1800 chance of colliding with Earth in 2180, but that isn’t its only claim to fame. Bennu is, as the mission page explains…

…a time capsule from 4.5 billion years ago. A pristine, carbonaceous asteroid containing the original material from the solar nebula, from which our Solar System formed.

So it makes sense we might want to study this asteroid in more detail, which is exactly what the joint U.S.-Canadian New Frontiers Program’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) aims to do. The probe will launch in 2016, intercept Bennu in 2018, collect at least 2.1 ounces of material, and bring it home by 2023.

In the course of all of this, it will use a variety of instruments to examine Bennu’s composition and trajectory—telling us how likely it really is to hit Earth in 2180, what asteroids with a similar pedigree might be made of, and even how we might go about intercepting one of them to prevent collision.

And while this sounds very wishy-washy and theoretical, remember that we’re literally talking about intercepting a potentially dangerous near-earth asteroid. That might really come in handy one day.

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Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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