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Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA

 
What If?
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01/05/2008 01:00 AM
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Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
Possible Mars impact highlights risk to Earth



An asteroid hurtling towards Mars has a 1 in 28 chance of walloping the Red Planet on 30 January, according to the latest calculations.

The rock's discovery just a couple of months before a possible impact begs the question of what would happen if it were instead headed for Earth. With so little warning, the only option would be to evacuate any inhabited areas it might hit, astronomers say.

The asteroid, called 2007 WD5, was discovered on 20 November by a 1.5 metre telescope near Tucson, Arizona, US, that combs the skies as part of NASA's efforts to detect asteroids with a chance of hitting Earth.

It is an estimated 50 metres across, putting it in the same class as the Tunguska object that exploded over Siberia in 1908, flattening trees in an area extending many kilometres from the explosion.

The case of 2007 WD5 shows that Earth is vulnerable to small objects that can evade detection until it is too late to deflect them, says Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, US.

The US congress has asked NASA to find 90% of asteroids down to 140 metres across, but trying to take this down to 50 metres might prove too costly to be funded, he says.
No time

Yeomans estimates that it would take months to years to build a spacecraft that could deflect an asteroid and prevent it from hitting Earth. Scientists are still debating the best method for deflecting asteroids, considering everything from firing lasers at them to nudging them off course with a "gravity tractor".

But if an object in a scenario similar to that of 2007 WD5 was discovered just a few weeks ahead of a potential collision with Earth, there would not be enough time to mount a deflection mission.

"Then you just worry about evacuation," Yeomans told New Scientist. "You'd be able to pinpoint along what sort of ground track the object could hit and then you'd try to evacuate populated regions within that ground track."
Temporary increase

Early calculations gave the asteroid a 1 in 75 chance of striking Mars on 30 January 2008.

Then, additional observations of the asteroid on 8 November were found in archival images from the 2.5-metre telescope at the Apache Point Observatory near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, US. As a result, NASA's Near Earth Object Program reported on 28 December that the impact probability had increased to 3.9%, or about 1 in 25.

But new observations taken between 29 December and 2 January using a 2.4-metre telescope at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico have revised the probability again, slightly lowering it to 3.6%, or about 1 in 28.
Difficult target

It is not unusual for the probability of an impact to temporarily increase with additional observations, only to decrease again when even more measurements are made. The probability of an Earth impact in 2036 by a 250-metre-wide asteroid called Apophis increased from about 1 in 5000 to 1 in 37 in 2004, before dropping to 1 in 45,000 with the latest observations.

Usually, with more observations, the chance of an impact disappears – which is the likely scenario for 2007 WD5, according to Yeomans.

The asteroid is growing dimmer as it recedes from Earth, making it harder to observe. But scientists are still hoping to obtain new measurements over the weekend and into the coming week.

In addition to the Magdalena Ridge telescope, scientists are looking into using a 2.2-metre telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, US, belonging to the University of Hawaii and the 6.5-metre MMT Observatory on Mount Hopkins near Tucson, Arizona, US.

Comets and Asteroids - Learn more about the threat to human civilisation in our special report.
kkkaaaa
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01/05/2008 01:01 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
link???
Anonymous Coward
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01/05/2008 01:27 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
kkkaaa,

January 4th, 2008
[link to space.newscientist.com]
LouisWinthorpeIII

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01/05/2008 01:29 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
Look at it this way, a nickle / iron metorite, a few Km in diameter would be an ELE.

And their wouldn't be a damed thing we could do about it.

Nothing.

Our only hope is to colonize the planets before something does hit, to give us better odds. But at this rate it's not happening anytime soon.

Frankly I'd much rather not know.

The errie sense of an approaching hurricane is bad enough, but something like that...?

Fuck it.


Ignorance is bliss.
"I don't know which was scarier...the speech...or the Congress cheering it. He evoked Lincoln. Whenever a President is going to get us into serious trouble...they always use Lincoln."
-2010
Jos
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01/05/2008 02:06 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
Scientists suggesting that blowing asteroids to pieces
is bad because the pieces will still hit earth, is just plain stupid. once blown apart the pieces would drift
apart in space and most would miss the earth.
LouisWinthorpeIII

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01/05/2008 02:17 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
Scientists suggesting that blowing asteroids to pieces
is bad because the pieces will still hit earth, is just plain stupid. once blown apart the pieces would drift
apart in space and most would miss the earth.
 Quoting: Jos 56851


Oh brother, where on earth do you get that idea from? These things are MASSIVE, and the best you can hope to do is break them up, it won't destroy them. Your best hope is that it would spread the impact area.

Sadly it they would still hit the earth, and they would now be radioactive.
"I don't know which was scarier...the speech...or the Congress cheering it. He evoked Lincoln. Whenever a President is going to get us into serious trouble...they always use Lincoln."
-2010
Anonymous Coward
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01/05/2008 02:55 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
Scientists suggesting that blowing asteroids to pieces
is bad because the pieces will still hit earth, is just plain stupid. once blown apart the pieces would drift
apart in space and most would miss the earth.
 Quoting: Jos 56851


The object, once broken up, would be in much smaller pieces but would still have momentum and be drawn by Earth's gravity--creating devestation over a much wider area.
Eric Carr
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01/05/2008 06:20 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
If it was the Earth instead of Mars. A lot of people would be dead!
Anonymous Coward
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01/05/2008 07:06 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
it is 100km long not 50m
Anonymous Coward
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01/05/2008 07:06 AM
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Re: Asteroid hurtling towards Mars provided only a small window of warning since being spotted by NASA
it's 1 in 20 chance not 1 in 28





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