On Angering the Red Planet

Astronomers have rated an asteroid as having a 1 in 75 chance of striking Mars on January 30, 2008.

The asteroid, known as 2007 WD5, was discovered in late November and is similar in size to the Tunguska object that hit remote central Siberia in 1908, unleashing energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb that wiped out 60 million trees.

Scientists tracking the asteroid, which is halfway to Mars, initially put the odds of impact at 1 in 350 and increased the chances this week after analyzing the data. Scientists expect the odds to diminish again early next month after getting new observations of the asteroid’s orbit, Chesley said.

“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 said.

If the asteroid does smash into Mars, it’ll likely aim near the equator, close to where the rover Opportunity has been exploring the Martian plains since 2004. The robot is not in danger because it lies outside the potential impact zone. Speeding at 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) a second, a collision would carve a hole the size of the famed Meteor Crater in Arizona.

All I can say is…

Nifty!

Cometary strikes on Jupiter and the Sun have been observed. An asteroid strike on a planet has not. If it happens, in six weeks, every telescope on Earth will be pointed that way. To see what happens. And to see how the impact plays out over the short and long term.

Nifty!

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