Hello, Asteroid!

Asteroids, as the dinosaurs found out, can have big effects on life on Earth. 

Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid crashed into the Yucatán. The impact caused apocalyptic tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. Grit and ash blotted out the sun. It wiped out species that had roamed the Earth for millions of years.

Yet asteroid hits also were critical to the origins of life on Earth. Asteroids may well have been the bringers of water, of carbon, even of amino acids — the building blocks of life.

That’s a big reason why NASA is on a mission to Bennu. This asteroid is like an ancient fossil of our solar system — largely unchanged since the time the planets formed.

In December, after a billion-mile journey, NASA’s Osiris-Rex mission arrives at Bennu. And, for the first time, a spacecraft will try to actually bring back an asteroid sample to Earth.

On this episode of Orbital Path, Dr. Michelle Thaller sits down with Dr. Amy Simon — a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and a key player on the Osiris-Rex mission. Michelle and Amy talk about the mission, Amy’s work to probe the origins of the solar system, and one other thing: 

The remote chance that Bennu, someday, could collide with Earth.

Orbital Path is produced by David Schulman. 

Our editor is Andrea Mustain. Production oversight by John Barth and Genevieve Sponsler.

Support for Orbital Path is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science, technology, and economic performance.

Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.