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A possible Martian impact could take place next month

Mars may endure an asteroid hit in the near future, scientists from the Near Earth Object Program (NEO) reported last week.  A group of NASA experts released a statement claiming an asteroid 2007 WD5 has a one in 75 chance of a direct hit of the Martian surface next month.  The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's NEO program is responsible for monitoring any and all flying objects that may pose a risk of impacting Earth.

Astronomers closely monitored the asteroid after it was discovered in November by the Catalina Sky Survey, which helps discover near-earth objects (NEOs).  Originally given odds of 1 in 350 of hitting the Red Planet, the odds jumped up after new calculations on Thursday.

Assuming the asteroid does impact the Red Planet scientists would see a great explosion able to reveal soil contents never before seen by researchers.  NASA expects it to hit the surface at 8.4 miles per second, which is the equivalent of a 3 megaton explosion.  This would leave a crater more than a half-mile in diameter.

"We're used to dealing with odds like one-in-a-million," said NEOP astronomer Steve Chesley told the L.A. Times.  "Something with a one-in-a-hundred chance makes us sit up straight in our chairs."

The possible impact would take place on January 30, 2008 at almost 3:00 a.m. PST.  The location on Mars is near the location of the Mars rover Opportunity, one of two crafts examining the Martian surface.

If the asteroid does not impact Mars, NEO warns it would approach Earth "years or decades later," but said there is no risk of it hitting the planet.




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