“it would be a very interesting and exciting scientific bonanza..”

Near Earth Objects, such as the Geminids’ 3200 Phaethon, don’t just pose a potential risk to Earth. One NEO, 2007 WD5, was only identified on 20 November this year and, having been eliminated as a potential threat to Earth, is now heading towards Mars – ETA 30 January 2008. Interactive 3D orbit diagram here [Java req].

NASA astronomers calculate that the chance of a collision with Mars, by the approximately 50m wide asteroid, is currently 1 in 75, although there is still work to do to refine those odds. Listen to astronomer Steve Chesley in this NASA podcast [transcript and mp3 file] and you might get the idea that he’s hoping it will strike the red planet.. as any curious scientist would..

Narrator[Jane Platt]: OK, so a good chance it will miss, a very good chance it will miss. But nonetheless, 1 in 75 chance that it will hit Mars is pretty high, right?

Chesley: This is a very high impact probability for what we’re used to dealing with, which is usually in the one in a million, even one in a billion odds. So 1 in 75 is certainly startling for us, and we’ve been paying close attention to this object since as soon as we realized that it was going to come so close to Mars.

NASA have provided a useful animated gif to illustrate the uncertainty involved in calculating the position of 2007 WD5 when it crosses Mars orbit

And here’s another short NASA animation showing the possible area of collision on Mars of asteroid 2007 WD5 on 30 January 2008.

But, as Jane Platt in the earlier linked podcast pointed out, “OK, so a good chance it will miss, a very good chance it will miss.”

“But nonetheless, 1 in 75 chance that it will hit Mars is pretty high, right?”

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  • joeCanuck

    They say that the crater, if the asteroid hits, will be about the size of Meteor (Barringer) Crater in Arizona.
    I’ve visited there and that is one awesome hole in the ground!

  • smcgiff

    Does this offer us Earthlings a chance to see if we could disrupt the path of a 50m sized asteroid?

    Just in case the time comes when it’s a 1-75 chance of hitting the earth.

  • joeCanuck

    There isn’t enough time to try any of the proposed techniques.
    But maybe they should be hurrying up preparations; one missed the earth inside the moon’s orbit a few years back. Mind you, spotting techniques are purely visual and they didn’t see that one until it had passed, since it came from the direction of the sun (like a good fighter pilot in the olden days).

  • smcgiff

    Yeah, too far away to intercept something headed for Mars. Put that one down to tiredness, Joe.

  • Lempit may even put down a cheeky girl to watch an impact…

  • parci

    often observed how non super-naturalists spend a good deal of time staring into space.

  • joeCanuck

    Well Parci, I did mention looking down into a hole in the ground.

  • parci

    that’s great joe, because the ancient greeks were able to conduct studies into matter kneeling down on the ground, whilst simultaneously observing the heavens with the third eye 😉

    oh and the other one is:
    Experts report a large crater has appeared on the N1
    local police at the scene say ” we’re looking into it”.