The Day the World Ends – Maybe

Thursday, September 22, 2135. Put it in your calendar. The scope of the actual event is a bit uncertain at this time but we will shortly know more when our space mission to asteroid Bennu sends back data. What we do know is that Bennu is on its way. The current chance of a collision with Earth, while far from certain, is big enough to be really scary. This is especially true because its orbit is not exactly known at present.

Bennu isn’t large enough to do the dinosaur thing on us, but it could wreak large-scale destruction. Surprising perhaps, this is particularly true if it struck somewhere in an ocean, as the odds favor by about two to one. Bennu is several times the size of the object that struck near the Stony Tunguska River in Russia on June 30, 1908. That event had the estimated energy of a 10-30 megaton nuclear blast and was the largest impact event in recorded human history.

NASA is taking this very seriously. Right now their Planetary Defense Coordination Committee – yes, there is such an organization – is developing the beautifully named HAMMER program. This stands for Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Emergency Response, at least that’s their story anyway. If it becomes necessary, this will be our attempted defense. Basically it would fly up there and smack Bennu on the noggin, hopefully with a force sufficient to divert this monster. If it were up to me, I would respectfully call this the Bruce Willis Mission.

When the time draw near, defense or not, we should expect the crazies to be out in their multitudes, standing on hilltops flapping sheets or exhorting everyone to make their peace with God. I wish I could be there to watch the fun.