Natalie Starkey is a cosmochemist concerned about protecting Earth for future generations and is the author behind 2018 book “Catching Stardust”. Within the text, Dr Starkey discusses how asteroids – the millions of small rocky bodies that lurk within the inner Solar System – could one-day end life on Earth. NASA is constantly scanning the cosmos and categorising any Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) as Potentially Hazardous Objects (PHO) if they could pose a threat.
However, Dr Starkey is worried that history could repeat itself, sparking a cosmic winter on Earth, which could kill off humans in a few years.
She revealed how one of the most famous asteroid impacts was almost twice the size of Barj Khalifa, which stands at 800 metres.
Dr Starkey wrote last year: “As we previously saw, the dinosaur-killing impact was probably produced by an object nine miles in diameter (1,500m).
“While it did not manage to destroy the entire planet, it certainly wasn’t food news for the dinosaurs or half the species that were around at the time.
“In fact, a similar impact at the present day would eventually kill off all humans, if not at first then within a few years.
“Such a collision could easily instigate long-lasting, global catastrophic effects on the planet’s biosphere, brought about by the initiation of an impact winter.”
Dr Starkey went on to explain how these conditions would affect humans.
She added: “This is where the Sun’s rays are blocked out by the encircling dust and debris kicked up from the collision.
“Under these conditions, any life that managed to escape the direct effects of the impact would struggle to find enough food and resources to survive long after.
“In fact, initial predictions suggested it might collide with Earth, but after some careful observations scientists have, fortunately, worked out it will pass at about 2.5 times further than the distance from the Earth to the Moon, around 580,000 miles.”
Asteroid 101955 Bennu, formally known as 1999 RQ36, is a PHO listed on the Sentry Risk Table with the second-highest cumulative rating on the Palermo Technical Impact Hazard Scale.
Investigators have already warned the space agency that it could be devastating if they do not act.
According to a study by scientist Maria Eugenia Sansaturio, the 1999 asteroid may impact the Earth.
Dr Sansaturio warned in a report for the Solar System journal Icarus that there is a good chance of the asteroid striking.
She told Universe Today in 2010: “The total impact probability of asteroid 1999 RQ36 can be estimated as 0.00092, approximately one-in-a-thousand chance, but what is most surprising is that over half of this chance (0.00054) corresponds to 2182.”
However, NASA has a less destructive move for Bennu.
The space agency is currently running a mission with its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to find out more about the rock.
The spacecraft spent two years chasing Bennu down, before orbiting it for another two years and taking samples.
Then, in 2023, it will blast back to Earth to allow scientists from around the world to study it.
The mission team is particularly interested in learning the role that asteroids like Bennu – dark, primitive and apparently carbon-rich – may have played in creating life on Earth.
It will also help scientists to refine the odds of a strike on Earth.