Answer, No... But Asteroid May Hit Red Planet January 30
A one-in-75 chance may not seem like
very much to bet on at the tables in Vegas... but in cosmic terms,
it's an almost-sure thing. NASA says a newly-discovered asteroid,
scheduled to make a low fly-by of Mars at the end of next month,
may in fact strike near the red planet's equator.
The chance of collision poses a real opportunity for astronmers
to study the effects of such a strike on a planet. In fact, if the
asteroid -- known as 2007 WD5 -- does hit Mars, NASA will have the
equivalent of a front-row seat, thanks to the Mars Opportunity
rover... which has been exploring an area just outside the expected
impact zone since 2004.
"These odds are extremely unusual. We frequently work with
really long odds when we track ... threatening asteroids," said
Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Program at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Currently, the asteroid may pass within 30,000 miles of Mars at
about 0600 EST January 30. Earlier this week, NASA placed the odds
of collision at one-in-350... but raised the chances this week,
based on new data.
Chesley added those numbers will probably drop again, though,
when scientists receive new data regarding the object's orbit early
next month. "We know that it's going to fly by Mars and most likely
going to miss, but there's a possibility of an impact," he told The
"Right now asteroid 2007 WD5 is about half-way between Earth and
Mars and closing the distance at a speed of about 27,900 miles per
hour," added Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Office
at JPL. "Over the next five weeks, we hope to gather more
information from observatories so we can further refine the
If the asteroid does strike Mars, it would hit the planet at a
speed of eight miles-per-second, and would release about three
megatons of energy... creating a hole roughly the size of Arizona's
"Unlike an Earth impact, we're not afraid, but we're excited,"
Chesley said. "We estimate such impacts occur on Mars every
thousand years or so. If 2007 WD5 were to thump Mars on January 30,
we calculate it would hit at about 30,000 miles per hour and might
create a crater more than half-a-mile wide."
Scientists believe an event of comparable magnitude occurred on
Earth in 1908 in Tunguska, Siberia, but no crater was created. The
object was disintegrated by Earth's thicker atmosphere before it
hit the ground, although the air blast devastated a large area of