NASA monitoring Mars bound asteroids trajectory

December 22nd, 2007 - 1:10 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Dec 22 (ANI): NASA is monitoring the asteroid discovered by The University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey, which they say has a one-in-75 chance of hitting Mars on Jan. 30, 2008.

Observations provided by the astronomers and analyzed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, indicate the object may pass within 30,000 miles of Mars at about 6 a.m. EST on Jan. 30, 2008.

“Right now asteroid 2007 WD5 is about half-way between the Earth and Mars and closing the distance at a speed of about 27,900 miles per hour,” said 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 asteroid’s trajectory,” he added.

Known as 2007 WD5, the asteroid was first discovered on Nov. 20, 2007, by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey and put on a “watch list” because its orbit passes near the Earth. Astronomers monitoring its trajectory estimate it to be 164-feet wide.

At the time, the asteroid was at 20th magnitude brightness, which is about 400,000 times fainter than the faintest object most people can see with their naked eye on a dark night, said survey team member Ed Beshore. The asteroid is now 16 times dimmer than it was when it was discovered, he added.

Further observations from both the NASA-funded Spacewatch at Kitt Peak, Arizona, and the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico gave scientists enough data to determine that the asteroid was not a danger to Earth, but could potentially impact Mars.

Because of current uncertainties about the asteroid’s exact orbit, there is a 1-in-75 chance of 2007 WD5 impacting Mars. If this unlikely event were to occur, it would be somewhere within a broad swath across the planet north of where the Opportunity rover is.

“We estimate such impacts occur on Mars every thousand years or so,” said Steve Chesley, a scientist at JPL. “If 2007 WD5 were to thump Mars on Jan. 30, we calculate it would hit at about 30,000 miles per hour and might create a crater more than half-a-mile wide,” he added.

According to scientists, such a collision could also release about three megatons of energy, which could be comparable to the Tunguska event that occurred here on Earth in 1908 in Tunguska, Russia. (ANI)

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