THE “apocalypse asteroid” known as Bennu is spinning faster and faster as it hurtles in Earth’s direction.
The vast asteroid, which is 510m wide is travelling at around 63,000mph and takes around 4.3 hours to fully rotate.
Scientists working on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission have discovered that Bennu is spinning faster than it was.
The time it takes to rotate is now one second faster than it was a century ago.
That might not sound like a lot but over time this has a big impact on the rock.
Authors of a study on Bennu published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters say that over millions and millions of year it could lose pieces of itself or even blow itself apart.
Mike Nolan, senior research scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona said: “As it speeds up, things ought to change, and so we’re going to be looking for those things.
“Detecting this speed up gives us some clues as to the kinds of things we should be looking for.”
The team of scientists think the reason for increase in Bennu’s rotation is down to what is known as the Yarkovsky–O’Keefe–Radzievskii–Paddack (YORP) effect.
This is triggered when light from the Sun hitting the asteroid and is then reflected back into space.
The change in the direction of the light coming to the asteroid as it moves through space pushes on the asteroid and can cause it to spin faster or slower, depending on its shape and rotation.
It has been branded an “apocalypse asteroid”, and Nasa says it has a one in 2,700 chance of hitting our planet in the next century.
If it collides with Earth, the rock will release 80,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb blast.
Osiris-Rex has orbited Bennu since December, and took its latest images on January 17 when it was only a mile above the space rock’s surface.
The space probe took the closeup using its NavCam 1 navigation camera, which it normally uses to track the path of its orbit.
The space rock’s size means its gravitational pull is not very strong, so Osiris-Rex has to keep a close eye on it to make sure it’s on the right path.
The space probe aims to help scientists understand what makes up the asteroids that whizz past our planet.
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Osiris-Rex found signs of water on Bennu just days after it landed on the mysterious space rock.
Nasa has previously said that Bennu is a “potentially hazardous” asteroid that could hit our planet in the next 100 years.
But you shouldn’t worry too much – a top Nasa official claimed this month that its space boffins would let the world know if an apocalypse was on its way.
That’s because there would be “no way” for the space agency to hide a catastrophic asteroid if it was heading for Earth.
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