Mars Under Fire

Mars may be in for a big surprise come January 30. An asteroid about the size of a football field is speeding toward the planet and has a 1 in 25 chance of impacting somewhere north of where the Opportunity rover is currently exploring the planet. The crater would end up being roughly a mile wide and about as deep as the meteor crater in Winslow Arizona. The force of the impact would be somewhere in the area of 15 megatons.

Scientists appear to be pretty excited about the possibility because an impact would eject material from deep under the surface and give them a chance to take readings from the orbiting probes. In all of our missions to Mars, none has ever done more than a scratch on the surface analysis of what's there, so we have no idea what to expect to see if the asteroid hits.

From the information that's been released so far it isn't clear what side of the planet the impact is likely to happen on. I'm assuming that since nobody has said we can observe it that it will be on the opposite side from Earth. If it is going to be visible though, that would definitely be a cool sight to see. It's not every day one gets a chance to watch an asteroid impact a planet firsthand. And it's certainly not something we'd like to observe firsthand here on Earth.

NASA says the Opportunity rover is in no danger since it would be outside the projected impact zone. That also seems to imply it wouldn't be practical to drive up there to check things out afterward either.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

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Posted on Jan 2, 2008 7:52 am by Samson in: | 3 comment(s) [Closed]
It just may be that there wouldn't be anything visible to the naked (or even only slightly aided) eye.. while this does all sound pretty cool, I guess I missed the part where they implied that it'd be impractical (or even that they weren't already planning) to "drive up there to check things out afterward". :shrug:

Just checked in with and there's an updated article on the site. Apparently astronomers have been able to refine their calculations based on further observations and they've now concluded the asteroid will miss the planet, coming possibly as close as 2,485 miles. There's a 0.01% chance of a strike at this point. So nobody is going to get to see a big fat hole punched in the planet.

So they just got it wrong. Go figure.

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