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NASA’s HAMMER will destroy Asteroid Bennu approaching Earth and prevent future collision

NASA is preparing for a nuclear attack, not on Earth, but on a large asteroid that has some chances of colliding with Earth in future. The asteroid, named Bennu, has a 1 in 2,700 chance of crashing to Earth on September 21, 2135. So, NASA is planning to destroy this potentially dangerous asteroid through nuclear bombing before it reaches our Earth.

Although the chances of Bennu asteroid hitting Earth is negligible, still, NASA wants to ensure that the potential threat is neutralized well in advance. NASA scientists are not thinking of directly destroying the asteroid. They are of the notion that if the asteroid is found to coming too close to earth, then it should be destroyed with nuclear bombs to ensure the safety of Earth. Currently, Bennu is orbiting the Sun at about 54 million miles away from Earth. The asteroid is about 1,600 foot wide and weighs around 74 billion pounds.

The asteroid Bennu will come very close to Earth in September 2135 and NASA scientists predict that there might be a chance of collision of the asteroid with Earth. So, NASA along with the National Nuclear Security Administration, and two Energy Department weapons labs are planning to design and develop a spacecraft called HAMMER. HAMMER stands for Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response.

NASA believes that through HAMMER spacecraft it would be able to deliver nukes to the asteroid. The scientists are thinking of two ways in which they can obstruct Bennu from coming very close to Earth. If the asteroid is found to be small enough, then the HAMMER spacecraft will use an 8.8-ton “impactor” to smash the asteroid. If the asteroid is found to be massive, then the HAMMER will destroy it with nuclear bombs before it reaches Earth.

Physicist David Dearborn from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is thinking a different plan which does not need any nuclear bombing. Dearborn suggested that the asteroid could be slowed down and its course could be changed by bombarding it with multiple HAMMER crafts. The HAMMER mission concept is not a new thing, as the idea was earlier introduced in a 2010 report published in the journal Acta Astronautica. The report stated that 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. Well, the future of HAMMER project is uncertain and NASA is currently focusing on its OSIRIS-Rex mission that is on its way to Bennu to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

According to the US space agency NASA, OSIRIS-REx is continuing outbound cruise operations, en route to arrive in December of 2018 at the asteroid Bennu, with approach operations starting in August. The spacecraft is currently 29.6 million miles (47.6 million kilometers) from Earth and is executing a program designed to study and reduce the presence of water on the spacecraft.

During routine in-flight testing of the spacecraft’s thermal properties earlier this year, the mission’s navigation team noticed an unexpected minor acceleration of the spacecraft when the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) was exposed to sunlight. The mission team determined that this small thrust was caused by the outgassing of water that had been adsorbed by the SRC’s heat shield and backshell before launch.  Retention of water in blanketing and other materials – and the subsequent outgassing of this water – occurs with all spacecraft. For OSIRIS-REx, it was determined that when the SRC was exposed to the Sun at a distance of less than 1 Astronomical Unit (1 AU = approximately 93 million miles), this trapped water escaped and imparted a small thrust. While this small thrust would not be a problem for other missions, the gravity at the target asteroid Bennu is low enough that even this small amount of thrust could make orbital operations more difficult for OSIRIS-REx.

To better understand the outgassing effects on the spacecraft’s trajectory – and to bake out much of the remaining water before the spacecraft arrives at Bennu – the OSIRIS-REx mission team designed an outgassing program for execution starting earlier this fall. The choice of timing took into account both the spacecraft’s proximity to the Sun (less than 1 AU) and the fact that there were no science activities planned during this period. The outgassing program is being run concurrently with outbound cruise operations and does not affect the timing of the spacecraft’s arrival at Bennu.

Starting in mid-October, the spacecraft has been placed into various attitudes to expose different parts of the SRC to direct sunlight and initiate outgassing. Priority is given to the portions of the SRC that will face the Sun during asteroid proximity operations. The mission team has been able to detect and measure the rate of outgassing at each attitude and has determined that water is being removed as expected. The goal is to reduce the outgassing to the point where the spacecraft can fly the planned baseline trajectories around Bennu without modifications, and preliminary indications show that the program is progressing toward this goal. The program is scheduled to run through early January 2018.

101955 Bennu (provisional designation 1999 RQ36) is a carbonaceous asteroid in the Apollo group discovered by the LINEAR Project on September 11, 1999. It is a potentially hazardous object that is listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the third-highest rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale, due to a cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century. It is the planned target of the OSIRIS-REx mission which is intended to return samples to Earth in 2023 for further study.

Asteroid Bennu has a roughly spheroidal shape, which resembles a spinning top. The direction of rotation about its axis is retrograde with respect to its orbit. Bennu has a fairly smooth shape with one prominent 10–20 m boulder on its surface, in the southern hemisphere.

There is a well-defined ridge along the equator of asteroid Bennu. The presence of this ridge suggests that fine-grained regolith particles have accumulated in this area, possibly due to its low gravity and fast rotation.

Observations of this minor planet by the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2007 gave an effective diameter of 484±10 m, which is in line with other studies. It has a low visible geometric albedo of 0.046±0.005. The thermal inertia was measured and found to vary by ±19% during each rotational period. The data suggest that the regolith grain size is moderate, ranging from several millimeters up to a centimeter, and evenly distributed longitudinally. No emission from a potential dust coma has been detected around asteroid Bennu, which puts a limit of 106 g of dust within a radius of 4750 km.

On average, an asteroid with a diameter of 500 m (1,600 ft; 0.31 mi) can be expected to impact Earth about every 130,000 years or so. A 2010 dynamical study by Andrea Milani and collaborators predicted a series of eight potential Earth impacts by Bennu between 2169 and 2199. The cumulative probability of impact is dependent on physical properties of Bennu that were poorly known at the time, but was not found to exceed 0.071% for all eight encounters. The authors recognized that an accurate assessment of 101955 Bennu‘s probability of Earth impact would require a detailed shape model and additional observations (either from the ground or from spacecraft visiting the object) to determine the magnitude and direction of the Yarkovsky effect.

The publication of the shape model and of astrometry based on radar observations obtained in 1999, 2005, and 2011, made possible an improved estimate of the Yarkovsky acceleration and a revised assessment of the impact probability. The current (as of 2014) best estimate of the impact probability is a cumulative probability of 0.037% in the interval 2175 to 2196. This corresponds to a cumulative score on the Palermo scale of −1.71. If an impact were to occur, the expected kinetic energy associated with the collision would be 1200 megatons in TNT equivalent.

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  • Better idea you land a group of drillers on a space ship with drilling equipment .They drill down 2 miles or so and load in the nukes . Kaboom the asteroid is history . Saw the movie worked really well!

  • How do they propose to deal with the radioactive particulate debris resulting from such a nuclear impact? Or are we assuming that the entire mass will simply be vaporized?

    • Good! Much better than bombing North Korea, a country that will not harm the Earth. How NASA will destroy that asteroid when they currently are not able to send a bottle to Coke to the ISS I have no idea. It took you a second to worry about “radioactive particle debris” while it may take a decade to the NASA “specialists” (victim of Am. education) to even realised there is such a possibility.

    • Considering we’ve detonated about 2,000 nuclear devices right here on this planet, and the sun is an immense fusion reactor that would kill us deader than dead if not for Earth’s atmosphere, radioactive debris spread thin across space would be problem why exactly? In contrast to, say, a 78,000,000,000 kilogram rock smacking into the planet at 100,000 km/h?

      • I would like to see a study on Earth velocity change plotted versus the “2,000” nuclear devices mentioned by Anon.

        Answer: less than a trillionth of an equivalent rotational energy change. No, the earth did not move one IOTA.

        I am convinced that sending as many nuclear devices to Benno, would leave her smiling back at us. There is Benno geometry still left to be studied. The article touches upon a shape model and additional observations. The study is to determine how it will impact the Earth.

        Fortunately, for you and I, there is a group of Amateur Astronomers, known as the International Occultation Timing Association ( IOTA ). They volunteer their time and effort to map out asteroid occultations. These small body objects move across a known star object, yielding asteroid geometry. By combining many single chord observations, these amateurs, yield real-time valuable information.

        Where NASA speaks of off-gassing accumulated water, precious energy reserves are spent. An IOTA team data contribution, can further refine the asteroid trajectory. This leads to more accurate and minor course corrections, and saves precious on-board resources.

        IOTA data further refines the asteroid shape model and assists in predictive science. I’d like to remind readers that the 1 in 2700 chance is for one hit, on one date. If we do not alter Benno’s trajectory, this asteroid get’s eight chances, in all.

        Earthlings need all the help we can muster in space and on the ground. From what I’ve described, all citizen-scientists can help achieve a cumulative probability of success. Together, we can move an asteroid.

        For more information on IOTA visit:
        occultations.org

    • Hey Dillard! Do you have any idea how much naturally occurring “radioactive particulate(nice word by the way) debris” we as a planet are subjected to every day? That’s why we have a magnetic field and a atmosphere.It’s their respective jobs to handle the interstellar rift raft.And it’s our job to come up with brilliant ideas to stop the planet
      busters that they can’t handle.So don’t get your shorts in a knot.We probably can’t even get the authorization from the world community to deliver such a weapon test.However,you might kind of hope that we can.That being because the plan B’s won’t be ready for testing,let alone deployment,for twenty years.By my public school mathematical calculations we come up about three years short(give or take a few weeks) of being able to deal with this situation.Either way it doesn’t matter to me as I will be ashes spread over my favorite state park by then.You,and your 10 Billion other partners ,will probably be in your early to mid 60’s.So, get your collective heads
      out of your asses and address this inevitable confrontation now.

  • When the threat is a gigaton explosion, a chance of 1 in 2700 is hardly a “negligible” risk. It wouldn’t wipe out the human race or anything but Bennu would leave a multi-kilometre crater wherever it hit and do a lot of damage nearby.

  • The asteroid is about 1,600 foot (533 meters) wide and weighs around 74 billion pounds (37 million tons).
    (Moving at thousands of miles an hour speed)

    No one in the world would survive the impact due to permanent winter and vaporization of land mass.

    If they are wrong on Nuclear solution, they could steer it into the Earth, or other planets, or our Sun.

    None of that will be good.

    • 1. 74 billion kilograms. That’s 163 billion pounds.

      2. It would be bad, but it wouldn’t be that bad. A mile is 5280 feet. The Chicxulub crater believed to have killed off the dinosaurs was created by a 6 to 9 mile wide rock, and that only killed off 75% of the non-intelligent life on the planet. The climate would be disrupted, but not permanently. There would potentially be megadeaths in casualties, but life would go on.

      3. The heavenly bodies are routinely bombarded by asteroids. Just take a look at the surface of the moon; it’s covered with impact craters. It’s just not obvious on Earth because we have a nice, thick atmosphere that burns up most rocks before they hit the ground, and erosion to erase the signs of the ones that do. It’s not going to upset the cosmic balance if we create a few more craters on Mars. Nor is the sun going to go supernova; it would be the equivalent of a bug hitting a windshield.

      The only really valid objection here is unwittingly knocking Bennu or chunks of what used to be Bennu into Earth’s path. But, the more chunks, the greater the surface area, the faster it burns up on entry, the less mass hits the ground. It would be the difference between having someone throw a fistful of gravel at you vs a solid baseball-sized rock.

  • Where are your cites? Nowhere, because it’s a nonsense piece. Sciexaminer is blocked from my news feeds for being a stupid magazine.

  • Great ideas, first of all. One thing to definitely take into account is the pool table dynamics and physics involved in blowing a object in the correct direction. Secondly this overall position of the radioactive debris verses our planets flight path must be kept in other than the same place. Finally, much like a lot of our present day super fund sights it will be in its set region moving through space potentially dangerous till its remediated at a later date.

    • Going to say this but do they know if you can get a nuke to work in space with it being a vacuum no oxygen and how much oxygen would you need. Would it no be a good Idea to text one out in space to find out.

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