Earth is in danger, asteroid could strike earth

An asteroid that has a one in 20 chance of striking Mars on January 30, might just fly past, which would probably make it target Earth at some point in future.
Designated 2007 WD5, the 160-foot wide asteroid was originally identified as a possible risk to Earth, though later analysis showed that it actually might be on a collision course with Mars.According to a report in Discovery News, Donald Yeomans, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has said that the odds are that the asteroid is going to fly right past Mars.
In the long run, that may not be good news for Earth, which could find itself in the asteroid’s path at some point in the future. “Something of this size could take out a fairly large metropolitan area,” said Yeomans.
But unlike the 1908 Tunguska event, when a large asteroid exploded over central Siberia with the force of a large nuclear bomb, now there would be advance warning of a possible strike, as well as the tools and knowledge to divert the threat.

The possibility of an asteroid walloping the planet Mars this month is whetting the appetites of Earth-bound scientists, even as they further refine the space rock’s trajectory.

The space rock in question — Asteroid 2007 WD5 — is similar in size to the object that carved Meteor Crater into northern Arizona some 50,000 years ago and is approaching Mars at about 30,000 miles per hour (48,280 kph).

Whether the asteroid will actually hit Mars or not is still uncertain.

Two weeks ago, NASA scientists said the chances it would collide with the Red Planet were 1 in 75. Now they say it’s 1 in 28, and astronomers and physicists are beginning to take notice.

As they do, the scientists can credit Andrew Puckett, a 30-year-old astrophysicist conducting post-doctoral research at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Working on his own during Christmas break, Puckett discovered archival data that allowed NASA to refine its forecast on what’s now being called “Asteroid 2007 WD5.”

“When I submitted the information, all I knew was that I was changing the (projected) orbit,” Puckett said in a telephone interview Monday.

“I was sure I would also change the impact odds, but I had no idea whether it would go up or down. So the fact that it went up — and became a big story — is just really exciting for me.”

It might become exciting for a lot of other people as well, says UAA physics and astronomy professor Travis Rector, who supervises Puckett’s research — if the asteroid actually hits Mars.

Such an explosion — a force equivalent to a 3-megaton nuclear bomb — would leave a crater on Mars about a half mile wide. Exploring it with satellites and terrestrial rovers could allow scientists to answer questions about whether life forms have ever existed on other planets.

“If you consider the importance of that — it would be an amazing event if it occurs,” Rector said.

Typically the odds that any of the asteroids that NASA regularly tracks through its Near Earth Object Program will ever strike home — or even a neighboring planet — are tiny, Rector said.

“They’re like ‘one in 10,000’ and that sort of thing. So it’s a very big deal, and it’s getting a lot of attention.”

Scientists began to perk up in November, after 2007 WD5 whizzed past Earth at about 30,000 miles an hour — then resumed its orbit toward the outer solar system on a trajectory that would take it even closer to Mars.

On Dec. 21, the NASA Near Earth Object Program reported the chances that the flying rock might actually hit Mars were about 1.3 percent. But the space agency’s revised forecast on Dec. 28 — using data provided by Puckett — increased that likelihood to 3.9 percent.

How’d he come by such information himself?

Last year, after earning a Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics while studying comets and asteroids at the University of Chicago, Puckett was hired by UAA to help develop a new physics and astronomy curriculum — an initiative supported by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Separate from that mission, however, he’d continued to pay attention to obscure objects in our solar system — and on Dec. 21 was startled to hear news of the proximity to Earth of 2007 WD5. (Though it missed us by 5 million miles, Puckett says, that counts as close, in asteroid distance.)

Because of his familiarity with tracking asteroids through images available online in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey — a database principally used to monitor distant galaxies — Puckett was able to provide earlier plot points for 2007 WD5.

After working out some calculations on Christmas Day, he sent his findings to the Minor Planet Center at Harvard. The university, in turn, provided the information to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Then just before New Year’s Day, NASA readjusted the chances the asteroid will strike Mars.

Now Puckett is rooting for a direct hit .

“I hope it happens,” he told a UAA publicist last week, noting that such a cataclysm would also draw attention to the general threat asteroids pose toward Earth.

The impact here of a meteorite the size of Asteroid 2007 WD5 would devastate a large metropolis, said Donald Yeomans, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, interviewed recently by the Discovery Channel.

(An asteroid is a sub-planet-sized object of rock or metal that orbits the Sun; a meteor is an asteroid or meteoroid (if it’s small) that penetrates the Earth’s atmosphere and catches fire; a meteorite is a meteor that strikes Earth before burning up.)

The last time anything the size of the Mars-bound asteroid hit Earth was in 1908, when a fragment of a comet slammed into a forested region of Central Siberia with the force of a nuclear bomb, Puckett said.

But vastly larger meteorites that hit Earth eons ago are believed to have caused mass extinctions, including one 65 million years ago that may have killed off all the dinosaurs and launched the age of mammals.

If 2007 WD5 misses Mars on this orbit, Puckett said, then it’s possible that it could threaten Earth once more — 81 years from now — when our orbits align once again.

What are asteroids?

Asteroids, also called minor planets or planetoids, are a class of astronomical objects. The term asteroid is generally used to indicate a diverse group of small celestial bodies in the solar system that orbit around the Sun.

read more on wikipedia

Sources: TOI,msnbc.msn.com,seds.lpl.arizona.edu,adn.com

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2 Responses to Earth is in danger, asteroid could strike earth

  1. Pingback: CATACLYSM MILLIONS OF YEARS AWAY « SPEAK INDIA

  2. Armom says:

    Assalamu’alaikum everyone…May Allah b peace on u all….I really gettin’ scared of is cause once i’ll die den ALLAH(SWT) will punish me…The asteroid is a huge thing and if it falls den gone case…May ALLAH save us from dis…
    There is no God but ALLAH……….

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