The southern polar region of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, photographed by NASA's OSIRIS-REx probe on December 17, 2018. OSIRIS-REx entered orbit two weeks later ,
Credit: NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona
Regardless of what you may have heard, the Valentines Day sky gives no glimpse of our imminent doom. (Unless you are a lover with star cross.)
The English tabloid Express today released a story with the headline "NASA warns" APOCALYPSE Asteroid "today (February 1
This is completely wrong: First, Bennu is not an "apocalypse asteroid" and has never been named as such by NASA. (Agency scientists are not known for their hyperbolic and florid language.) The Space Rock is considered "potentially dangerous," but this is a broad term that applies to many asteroids of sufficient size whose orbits bring them relatively close to the earth.  Here is NASA's description of Bennu's short-term impact risk:
"Asteroid experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Center in Pasadena, California, are planning that Bennu will come close enough Over the next century, there is a 1 to 2,700 chance for the impact between 2175 and 2196. To put it another way, these chances mean that the asteroid misses Earth with 99.963 percent, though astronomers want to know exactly where Bennu is always to find. "
Even if Bennu had hit Earth, it would be Damage far from apocalypticism Such an effect would of course be devastating at the local level, but scientists estimate that asteroids must be at least one kilometer wide – about twice the diameter of Bennu – to cause a global catastrophe.
Then there Express got that bit from the NASA celestial show in February 2019, which stated that Bennu would be near Mars in the night sky on February 14th ird – only one fist width to the right of the red planet. The NASA article noted, however, that Bennu is "too weak to see without a telescope."
NASA chiefly emphasized Bennu here because the asteroid is the target of the agency's OSIRIS-REx sample recirculation mission. OSIRIS-REx orbited space rock on December 31, setting a record for the smallest object ever orbited by a spacecraft.
OSIRIS-REx is due to grab a sample of Bennu material in mid-2020. If everything goes according to plan, this stuff will come to Earth in September 2023 in a special return capsule. Scientists around the world will then search through the rubble and look for clues to the early days of the solar system and the role of this carbon – rich asteroids like Bennu may have contributed to Earth in building the building blocks of life.
"So, September 14th, Bennu waves a little – and OSIRIS-Rex, while you're at it," NASA officials wrote Skywatching Guide in February.
Mike Wall's book on finding an extraterrestrial life "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate) has now appeared. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall . Follow us @SpaceTotcom or Facebook. Originally published on Space.com.