An asteroid labeled 101955 Bennu is roughly 1,640 feet in diameter and passes through Earth’s orbit every 6 years. Because of this, the asteroid could collide with our planet.
"That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century," said Dante Lauretta, a planetary science professor at Arizona University, according to the Independent.
To study Bennu, NASA will launch Osiris-Rex, the first spacecraft designed to visit a near-Earth object. In a statement released Wednesday, the agency announced that the probe will lift off from Cape Canaveral at 7:05 p.m. (23:05 GMT) on September 8.
"This mission exemplifies our nation’s quest to boldly go and study our solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, according to the statement.
"NASA science is the greatest engine of scientific discovery on the planet and OSIRIS-Rex embodies our directorate’s goal to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire."
The spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 411 rocket and will reach Bennu in 2018. Once it reaches its destination, Osiris will use its onboard instruments to collect a sample and return to Earth by 2023.
"The launch of OSIRIS-Rex is the beginning of a seven-year journey to return pristine samples from asteroid Bennu," principal investigator Dante Lauretta added.
"The team has built an amazing spacecraft, and we are all well-equipped to investigate Bennu and return with our scientific treasure."
While scientists hope to learn about the asteroid’s trajectory, studying Bennu’s composition could also provide insights into how our solar system formed.
"We believe Bennu is a time capsule from the very beginnings of our solar system,” Lauretta told ABC News. “So the sample can potentially hold answers to the most fundamental questions human beings can ask, like 'Where do we come from?'"
At any rate, there’s no need to panic about doomsday just yet. Bennu has only a 1 in 2,700 chance of hitting Earth between 2175 and 2196.