Best way to deflect 'apocalyptic' asteroid Bennu solved by doomsday-busting scientists

SCIENTISTS have hatched a surefire way to help humanity avoid destruction by an apocalyptic asteroid.

The scheme involves using probes and projectiles to divert incoming space rocks onto a safe path away from our planet.

Cooked up by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the system is designed to help us deal with deadly asteroids before it's too late.

Space rocks like Apophis and Bennu, for instance, are known to astronomers and expected to come perilously close to Earth over the next century. There are currently no asteroids that we know of on course to hit our planet.

"Most scientists believe it is never too early to consider strategies for deflecting an asteroid if one were ever on a crash course with our home planet," MIT wrote in a statement on its website.

The researchers devised a framework for identifying what methods would be most effective in deflecting an incoming asteroid.

It takes into account the size and speed of the asteroid as well as the amount of warning time scientists will get before an impact.

Their modelling coughed out a decision map that leaves us with three options in the event of an asteroid bearing down on us.

The first is launching a projectile to alter the rock's course, while the second is to send a probe to measure the object to help scientists figure out the best way to develop said projectile.

The third option is to send two probes to take measurements and to also nudge the asteroid to a position that will make it easier to knock out with a projectile later on.

Bennu – the key facts

Here's what you need to know

  • 101955 Bennu is a large asteroid that was first discovered on September 11, 1999
  • It's official designated as a "potentially hazardous object", because it could one day hit Earth
  • Space scientists say it has a 1-in-2,700 change of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2199
  • It's named after the Bennu, an Ancient Egyptian mythological bird associated with the Sun
  • The asteroid has an approximate diameter of 1,614 feet
  • Bennu is the target of the ongoing Osiris-Rex mission, which is designed to return samples from the asteroid to Earth in 2023
  • The Osiris-Rex spacecraft arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018 – following a two-year journey
  • It will map out Bennu's surface and orbit the asteroid to calculate its mass
  • An asteroid of Bennu's size can be expected to hit Earth approximately once every 100,000 to 130,000 years
  • Bennu will make a close approach (460,000 miles) to Earth on September 23, 2060

Simulations run using digital versions of Bennu and Apophis suggest timing is key.

If an impact is five years or more off, then the best course of action is to send two probes followed by a projectile.

Tighten the time frame to between two and five years, and humanity is better off sending just the one probe before hitting the rock with a projectile.

At just one year before impact, there would be nothing we could do to avoid a collision, scientists warned.

The official plan for avoiding a major collision is hitting the incoming rock with nuclear weapons.

That's proved controversial among scientists, who argue a nuke might not even have the power required to shatter an asteroid.

It's anyone's guess whether MIT's proposal will get anywhere – the system relies heavily on our detection systems catching collisions years in advance.

The research was published in the journal Acta Astronautica.

In other news, Elon Musk has vowed to send four "space tourists" into Earth's orbit as soon as next year.

A supersonic Nasa X-plane that's as quiet as the "thump of a car door" is nearly ready.

And, Nasa recently revealed a surreal photo of Earth taken from 4billion miles away.

Do you ever worry about an asteroid apocalypse? Let us know in the comments!

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