Asteroid Bennu typically swings by the planet every six years or so, with a short solar orbit of just over 436 days.
Until now, the carbon-rich hunk of rock posed no threat to humanity, but a dire warning from NASA suggests that could now change.
According to calculations by the US space agency, there is a slim chance, the nearly 500m-wide asteroid could slam into Earth.
Although the odds of this terrifying scenario are relatively low, about one in 2,700 or 0.037 percent, Bennu is a potential Earth Impactor listed on NASA’s Sentry Risk Table.
Because the asteroid passed Earth within half of an Astronomical Unit (AU) in the past, it has been listed on the Minor Planet Center’s list of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).
Chances are Bennu could crash into Earth sometime in the near future, 200 years away in the 22nd century.
But how destructive could a collision with an asteroid this big be? Could it wipe out all life on the planet?
With a diameter of 492m, Bennu is taller than the Empire State Building and equals the Malaysian Petronas Towers in height.
According to Dante Lauretta, professor of Planetary Science in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, Bennu’s impact would release “three times more energy than all nuclear weapons detonated throughout history”.
Professor Lauretta said: “The asteroid mass would hit the surface of the Earth at a velocity of 12.1 km/s (over 27,000 miles per hour).
“The impact would release energy equivalent to 1,450 megatons of TNT.
“For comparison, the fission bombs used in World War II had an energy release of roughly 20 kilotons of TNT each and the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, the Russian Tsar Bomba, had a yield of 50 megatons.
“The total energy expended during all nuclear testing throughout history is estimated at 510 megatons of TNT.”
However Professor Lauretta argued this impact would remain largely “insignificant” on a planetary scale.
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