OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Shines A Light On Asteroid Bennu's Future Orbit

NASA scientists released a study this week that utilized precision tracking data from OSIRIS-REx. Data gathered from the spacecraft is allowing scientists to understand the movements of asteroid Bennu, which is labeled potentially hazardous, through the year 2300. The new data helps refine the asteroid's future orbit and helps clarify calculations on if Bennu poses any hazard to the Earth in the future.

One of the many missions NASA is working on is the Planetary Defense mission, which aims to find and monitor asteroids and comets that have the potential to come close to the Earth and may pose a hazard to the planet. The mission is supported using surveys of the sky collecting data to discover unknown objects and then to produce refined orbits for those objects.

NASA says the OSIRIS-REx mission allowed it to refine and test its models. In the year 2135, Bennu will make a close approach to Earth. NASA says it won't pose a hazard to the planet at the time, but understanding the trajectory during that encounter impacts how the asteroid travels around the sun and could change the hazard Bennu poses to Earth beyond 2135.

Scientists were able to reduce uncertainties in the asteroid's orbit and determined that the total impact probability through the year 2300 is one in 1750 or a 0.057 percent chance of impact. The most likely date of potential impact would be September 24, 2182.

However, there is only a 0.037 percent chance Bennu will strike the Earth on that date. OSIRIS-REx is in a good position to share data with scientists on the asteroid because it orbited Bennu for two years monitoring all sorts of data and gathering samples. The samples will be returned to Earth on September 24, 2023, and will be studied in great detail.