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NASA Launches Space Probe to Intercept Potentially Hazardous Asteroid

Science By
(NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)
(NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

NASA’s on a mission to intercept a 4.5 billion-year-old asteroid that’s taller than the Empire State Building and flying through space at 63,000 mph. (Yes, NASA has officially taken on an assignment worthy of Michael Bay.)

This past week, the agency launched the OSIRIS-REx space probe to “rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth.” Bennu was targeted because of its composition, size, and proximity to our planet. It only comes close enough to Earth even to make an attempt every six years, so NASA has its work cut out for it.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - SEPTEMBER 8: In this handout photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft lifts off on from Space Launch Complex 41 on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to sample an asteroid, retrieve at least two ounces of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The asteroid, Bennu, may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules found on Earth. (Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft lifts off on from Space Launch Complex 41 on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)

Of course, the meetup is going to take a little time to happen; the OSIRIS won’t even reach Bennu until 2018 and the first samples won’t be headed home until September 2023. Incidentally, NASA notes that Bennu has a “high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd century”, so it’s probably better we get to it before it comes to us.

For more on the probe, click here. Learn more about Bennu here. Watch a short video on the mission below.