With a big asteroid possibly heading for Earth in 2182, what are scientists to do? Build an unmanned spacecraft to give that hunk of rock a closer look, the Arizona Republic reports. NASA and the University of Arizona are is designing the $1 billion project, called OSIRIS-REx, which is set to launch in 2016. If all goes well, it will reach asteroid Bennu two years later, analyze its composition, and scrape off a sample—all to help scientists determine how likely the quarter-mile-wide asteroid is to strike Earth.
One calculation puts the odds of a Bennu strike at 1 in 1,800, so don't lose any sleep—but it would hit with the force of 100 nuclear warheads and carve out a 4-mile-wide crater. So experts at Lockheed Martin had good reason to approach University of Arizona professors about the project a few years back. As it stands, Bennu comes within about 280,000 miles of Earth every six years and is considered dangerous because of its proximity and size. (Read more asteroid stories.)