NASA says asteroid with 24 atomic bombs could hit Earth in 159 years
This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu (Photo: AP)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has said there is a small chance an asteroid with the power of 24 atomic bombs could hit Earth in 159 years.

According to Mirror UK, experts believe that September 24, 2182 marks the day an asteroid named Bennu could hit the planet with the force of 24 atom bombs. The space rock - which is the same size as the Empire State Building - swings close to our planet every six years. However, the agency says there is a 1 in 2,700 chance it could strike Earth, with catastrophic results.

It comes as NASA scientists have revealed they are in the “final stretch” of their mission to avert an asteroid striking the Earth.

NASA launched a spacecraft to Bennu seven years ago to collect samples. They hope the data could help prepare them should an Armageddon-style deflection mission be required.

Asteroid samples from the OSIRIS-REx mission will reach Earth this week, touching down in the Utah desert in the United States on September 24.

Rich Burns, project manager for OSIRIS-REx at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told the Sunday Telegraph: “We are now in the final leg of this seven-year journey, and it feels very much like the last few miles of a marathon, with a confluence of emotions like pride and joy coexisting with a determined focus to complete the race well."

Bennu is about a third of a mile wide, so it is not big enough to cause a planet-wide extinction.

The asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs was six miles wide. However, NASA estimates that it could cause a six-mile-wide crater and wreak devastation over a 600-mile radius.

As well as Bennu, NASA are actively tracking six other asteroids which have the potential to crash into Earth - with a 10 per cent chance one named 2010RF12 could plummet to our planet.

This asteroid is classified as the most likely to hit our planet in the next 100 years, with a 10 per cent chance of hitting Earth - although minimal damage would likely be caused due to its relatively small size of 21 feet - meaning it likely explode in a huge air burst in the upper atmosphere, with the only thing reaching the ground being pebbles.

A considerably larger asteroid named Toutatis is three miles wide - and caused worries in 2004 when it had a close shave with Earth - passing four times the distance from Earth to the Moon. NASA estimates Toutatis won't make another close pass until 2562.

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