NASA may land probe on asteroid hurtling towards Earth: Report

Though asteroid 1999 RQ36 has a one-in-1,000 chance of hitting Earth before the year 2200, but if it happens, then the collision would cause an explosion equivalent to hundreds of nuclear bombs detonating at once.

An analysis of its orbit has predicted that it is most likely to hit us on September 24, 2182 but scientists want to collect a sample of the rock to help forecast its trajectory more accurately.

If NASA gives the plan the green light, the spacecraft would blast off in 2106 to map out and collect rock samples from the asteroid, which is 1,800 feet-wide, British newspaper 'The Daily Telegraph' reported.

The planned mission, called OSIRIS-Rex, is one of two finalists in competition for funding as part of the cash- strapped US space agency’s New Frontiers program. The other contender is a mission to land on Venus. The winner will be announced next year.

NASA has officially classified RQ36 as a "potentially hazardous asteroid" as it passes within about 280,000 miles of Earth. Its orbit, which brings it closer to Earth, makes it easier to reach than other asteroids.

Michael Drake, who would lead the OSIRIS-Rex team if the project was chosen, was quoted as saying, "Being one of the easiest targets to get to coincidentally means that it also can easily hit us, too."

Clark Chapman, a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said an impact from RQ36 would cause a catastrophic explosion. "It would be an enormous impact, like hundreds of the biggest nuclear bombs ever built exploding at once, creating a crater may be 10 kilometers across," he said.

An expert panel, appointed by US President Barack Obama to assess NASA's future space programme last year, has recommended bypassing the Moon in favour of a mission to land on an unidentified asteroid.

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