Deep in outer space, a diamond-shaped asteroid is hurtling towards Earth. If the two bodies collide, the space rock – known as Bennu – is big enough to extinguish life on our planet. But the asteroid is not alone. No, a NASA probe has been chasing the massive space rock for years. And having caught up with the colossal asteroid, the craft is preparing to land on its rocky surface. It’s a high-risk maneuver that demands absolute precision, but it’s one that could help secure the safety of humankind.
Approximately 66 million years ago, a large asteroid slammed into the Earth near Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. That in turn triggered a cataclysm – an extinction event that led to the loss of three quarters of the planet’s biodiversity, including the dinosaurs. But the impact transformed the environment into one that allowed Homo sapiens to evolve and flourish. A similar asteroid collision today, however, would mean the end of human civilization as we know it.
For decades, scientists have known that Earth faces the risk of a major asteroid collision. It’s more than a risk, in fact, as the chances of such a strike happening are 100 percent certain; it’s merely a question of when. And several Hollywood movies have, of course, already imagined the asteroid apocalypse – the 1998 box-office smash Armageddon, for instance. But while Armageddon is a light sci-fi adventure starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, the threat of Bennu is real.