Astronomers say asteroid could hit Mars

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Monday, December 24, 2007

This artist rendering uses an arrow to show the predicted path of the asteroid on Jan. 30, 2008, and the orange swath indicates the area it is expected to pass through. Mars may or may not be in its path.
Image: NASA/JPL.

Astronomers have discovered an asteroid that is approximately 160 feet long, that may be on a collision course for Mars and may hit the planet sometime in early 2008.

Since the discovery of asteroid 2007 WD5 on November 20, 2007, scientists at NASA's Near-Earth object Office have been tracking it, and say that the asteroid could come within 48,000 kilometers of the planet around January 30, 2008.

"Right now asteroid 2007 WD5 is about half-way between Earth and Mars and closing the distance at a speed of about 27,900 miles per hour. Over the next five weeks, we hope to gather more information from observatories so we can further refine the asteroid's trajectory," said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near Earth Object Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It may also hit near the area where the Opportunity Rover is currently exploring, but scientists say that the rover is outside of the zone of possible impact.

The current odds of the asteroid hitting the planet are 1 in a 75 chance that it will make its impact on or around that date.

"These odds are extremely unusual. We frequently work with really long odds when we track...threatening asteroids. We know that it's going to fly by Mars and most likely going to miss, but there's a possibility of an impact," said Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near Earth Object Office.