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Mars Space Science

Chance for a Tunguska Sized Impact on Mars 184

Posted by Soulskill
from the flying-rocks-that-will-not-kill-us dept.
Multiple users have written to tell us of an LA Times report that an asteroid may hit Mars on January 30th. The asteroid is roughly 160 feet across, and JPL-based researchers say that it will have a 1-in-75 chance of striking Mars. Those odds are very high for this type of event, and scientists are hoping to witness an impact of a similar scope to the Tunguska disaster. From the LA Times: "Because scientists have never observed an asteroid impact -- the closest thing being the 1994 collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter -- such a collision on Mars would produce a 'scientific bonanza,' Chesley said."
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Chance for a Tunguska Sized Impact on Mars

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  • by Loibisch (964797) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:26AM (#21777272)

    [...] and scientists are hoping to witness an impact of a similar scope to the Tunguska disaster.
    Won't somebody PLEASE think of the marsians? :(
  • From the article:

    "Normally, we're rooting against the asteroid," when it has Earth in its cross hairs, Chesley said. "This time we're rooting for the asteroid to hit."

    For all we know mars is a lifeless planet, but still....rooting for the asteroid to hit is just plain mean, bad karma. I hope it doesn't hit. Not only because of my ...uhmmmm.... nickname connection.

    • Look at it this way: one less chunk of rock hurtling around the solar system is one less that can eventually hurtle into Earth.

      One down, 500 trillion to go...
  • *no signal* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 6Yankee (597075) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:28AM (#21777284)
    It'll probably take something as dramatic as a direct hit from a meteorite to finish Spirit or Opportunity off.
    • The impact would probably send dust high into the atmosphere

      No signal, indeed. I seem to recall dust interference inhibiting communications recently. I bet the Spirit and Opportunity teams are not so excited.
      • Unless they can record the impact and keep the signal going as long as possible. And of course, there's the deal when in 20 years NASA hears this "beep, beep" cause something's still working.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I think they'd be less worried about the loss of communications than about the fact that the dust will block sunlight from reaching the rovers' solar panels. If they lose communications with the rovers for a while, there's still a chance to restore that communication. If the rovers lose power, it may not be possible to restore communication with them (short of having future manned Mars missions seek them out and jump start them.)

        I wonder if NASA has AAA service [wikipedia.org] -- that would be one hell of a service cal
      • by Chelloveck (14643)

        I bet the Spirit and Opportunity teams are not so excited.

        "Oh, dear God, let it hit so we can finally get off this 24-and-a-half hour day!"

  • Has someone (Score:4, Funny)

    by nrgy (835451) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:29AM (#21777294) Homepage
    informed the UAC base on Mars of the impending DOOM that is heading there way?
    • UAC ? (Score:5, Funny)

      by hostyle (773991) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:35AM (#21777326)
      Windows has detected an incoming Asteroid.

      If you started this action, continue.

        [Continue] [Cancel]

      User Account Control helps stop unauthorized changes to your planet.
  • by rucs_hack (784150) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:32AM (#21777312)
    Um, so first a huge collection of rocks smacks into Jupiter, now another may hit Mars, and they're excited?

    They sound awfully like ranging shots to me, I'm more inclined to get Venus to light the third cigarette and then be wery, wery, qwiet...
    • by IBBoard (1128019)
      Why just make it the third to light the cigarette? Why not also give it a florescent balaclava and make it stand atop a ladder in the middle of no-man's land as well?

  • by Proud like a god (656928) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:32AM (#21777314) Homepage
    If it does hit or in some other way cloud the atmosphere of Mars, would this put the brakes on current and planned future studies of the planet?

    A few years of darkened skies could finish off the rovers, or require better orbiting surveillance equipment, no?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bakuun (976228)
      I'd imagine that it's not big enough for that. Being in the same size class as the 1908 Tunguska asteroid, they should be fine (earth wasn't darkened by giant dust clouds in 1908, no?) While the article says that there will be a significant dust plume, I guess it'll seetle more rapidly and be more localized.
      • by Johnno74 (252399) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:00AM (#21777464)
        Even if it did, what we would learn would make it a more than fair trade. The mars rovers have done exceptionally well, but they won't last forever anyway. Its time to start thinking about the next generation of rovers, and manned missions back to the moon & to mars.

        Also, the massive publicity if there was a hit, with the sorts of pictures NASA would get would hugely increase public interest and support in making sure we can predict early enough and prevent the same thing never happens here.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by QuantumG (50515)
        Earth has a much thicker atmosphere.

      • by Peter Lake (260100) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:32AM (#21777634)
        The Tunguska asteroid exploded in the atmosphere, it did not hit the ground and raise dust.
        If 2007-WD5 hits Mars it will probably not explode in the thin atmosphere but impact Martian soil and raise huge amounts of dust. Martian dust is fine-grained and lightweight, and can raise high in the atmosphere - as we have seen during the dust storms. So I guess the dust plume would not stay localized, and it could mean trouble for the rovers and even for the Phoenix-lander.

        On the other hand the impact-crater would be very interesting to probe!
        • Martian gravity's also 1/3 ours, so dust would be aloft that much longer.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147)
          Tunguska was supposed to be about 10 megatons, recently downgraded to more like 5. We've had nuclear tests way bigger than that. None of them noticeably dimmed the planet.

          Mars has global dust storms every couple of years anyway, which I expect put a LOT more dust into the air than an impact of this size. If I remember correctly the rovers have already weathered one of those.
      • Being in the same size class as the 1908 Tunguska asteroid, they should be fine (earth wasn't darkened by giant dust clouds in 1908, no?) While the article says that there will be a significant dust plume, I guess it'll seetle more rapidly and be more localized."

        You've perhaps missed the recent news that puts the bulk of the Tunguska event's destruction on the preceding fireball & blast wave when the (now presumed much more smaller) asteroid exploded in the atmosphere, while making the 'size' of the [sandia.gov]
    • by cheater512 (783349) <nick@nickstallman.net> on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:01AM (#21777472) Homepage
      This is just a baby. There will be some fireworks, a big boom and some excited NASA scientists. :)
      No extensive dust cloud or anything like that.
  • It'd be so awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:35AM (#21777330) Homepage Journal
    We'd be talking about it for decades. It might actually wake up some people to the NEA threat to our own planet. It might have a devastating and instant effect on the atmosphere of Mars.. which could actually make the planet a little warmer and a little more hospitable.

  • by CubicleView (910143) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:35AM (#21777334) Journal
    Even if it misses it should still be a little interesting. If it comes that close, its orbit will be greatly affected, observing the results should be useful?
  • by lpangelrob (714473) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:35AM (#21777336)
    ...if an Tunguska-sized impact occurs on the side of the planet we can't see, did it really happen at all?
  • According to the article:

    The asteroid is now behind the moon, he said, so it will be almost two weeks before observers can plot its course more accurately."

    Nothing in solar orbit can stay occluded by our moon for that long. That's for about half of the moon's orbit! If I'm wrong about that, someone please draw me a diagram. *mutters something about lousy science reporting*

    *** Ponder

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It doesn't actually say it will be occluded for 2 weeks behind the Moon, it just says that it is currently occluded and it will be 2 weeks until they can calculate it's course. I assume the need to watch where it's going to predict it accurately.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Ponderoid (311576)
        If it's gonna take two weeks to get enough observations in to pin down its orbit, fine. Throwing in the fact there happens to be an occultation somewhere in there, which will last, what, an hour at most? That confuses the issue to the lay public. It's irrelevant for refining the asteroid's orbit. The article makes it sound like the asteroid will be hiding behind the moon for the entire period, when that can't possibly be the case.

        *** Ponder
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Tenebrarum (887979)
          The article makes it sound like the asteroid will be hiding behind the moon for the entire period, when that can't possibly be the case.

          Intelligent asteroid?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Ponderoid (311576)

          It just occurred to me that the astronomer being quoted might not have been referring to an occultation at all. That's a pretty rare event for any given asteroid. It's possible that the astronomer was referring to needing to wait for the bright moon to get out of the sky at the same time the asteroid is up, which can take a week or more, depending on its current phase. The extra extinction caused by a bright moon might be enough to prevent the detailed observations needed to get a good orbital fix on the

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jmichaelg (148257)
      It's currently a 24th magnitude object which means it's extremely faint and can only be viewed from earth by very large scopes on dark nights. The moon's illumination makes observation that much harder.

      The Nasa neo page for this object [nasa.gov] has more info about the asteroid.

  • New rover mission? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Xelios (822510) on Friday December 21, 2007 @06:48AM (#21777412)
    If the asteroid does hit the impact site would probably make for a good rover mission. Fresh samples of long buried rock without the extra hassle of having to dig it up!
    • The question is (Score:3, Interesting)

      by maroberts (15852)
      How long would it take to get to the impact site, bearing in mind that it travels at an average speed of 1cm per second, and that dust in the atmosphere from the impact will probably drastically reduce it's recharge ability?

      I think you'd get there quicker by launching another rover mission!!
      • How long would it take to get to the impact site

        Well, it kind of greatly depends on where the impact site is relative to the rover, doesn't it? If the crater is a kilometer away, then I'm sure it will be visited. If it's 10,000 km away, then it will have to wait for a completely new rover mission.
        • If the crater is a kilometer away, then I'm sure it will be visited. If it's 10,000 km away, then it will have to wait for a completely new rover mission.

          If the crater is a kilometer away, then it's unlikely the rover will be in any state to visit it, or even report its state, and it will have to wait for a new rover mission anyway. :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      They'd need funding for another rover mission though... But let's tell Bush that "fresh soil" almost sounds like "fresh oil" and maybe he'll approve. :-)
    • Geesh!! We send a car a million miles away, and STILL everyone just sits around waiting for a wreck!

  • beagle... (Score:5, Funny)

    by apodyopsis (1048476) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:03AM (#21777486)
    Get the cameras rolling, I'm sure it'll be a better impact then the Beagle meteorite simulation of a few years ago.

    :-)

    (I do feel bad for poking fun at Beagle, many people much smarter then me put a lot of work into that probe.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:07AM (#21777506)
    The received wisdom used to be that the meteorite, that caused the disaster in Tunguska, exploded above the surface of the earth. It entered the atmosphere at a relatively shallow angle and heated up much more than it would have if it had come straight down. The result was that a long relatively narrow area of forest was knocked down and there was no impact crater.

    On Mars, the atmosphere is much less dense than that of the earth. The meteor in question is large. If it hits Mars, it will reach the surface, it won't vaporize in the atmosphere. The result will be much more like other impacts on the earth that did leave craters. In that light, the comparison with Tunguska doesn't make much sense. I don't know where Steve Chesley got his information on the size of the rock that exploded over Siberia but I bet it wasn't 160 feet across. Something that size would make it to the Earth's surface.
  • by SamP2 (1097897) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:14AM (#21777536)
    "Disaster" is a pretty hypy label for an event which led to no known loss of human life or property, and caused no significant environmental damage (yes, a lot of trees fell and some wildlife may have died, but it's not like it destroyed an ecosystem or led to an extinction of any species).

    Most modern industrial projects are a bigger "disaster" in this sense than Tunguska. The event should be referred to as "phenomenon", or maybe just a "boom", but not a "disaster".
    • by fracai (796392)
      haha, "The Tunguska Boom of 1908"

      Gah, even Ghostbusters got it right.
      "You have been a participant in the biggest interdimensional cross-rip since the Tunguska blast of 1909[sic]!"
    • So: If an asteroid explodes in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it... ? =)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by roystgnr (4015) *
      "Disaster" is a pretty hypy label for an event which led to no known loss of human life or property

      When an asteroid travels millions of miles to avoid flattening Moscow by a few thousand, "phenomenon" seems as understated as "disaster" is overstated. How about the "Tunguska Warning Shot"?
  • by Almost-Retired (637760) on Friday December 21, 2007 @07:19AM (#21777554)
    I'll bet they are. Because we have this nice dense atmosphere to sustain our breathing, we tend to forget that mars has only 2 or 3% of the surface air pressure to heat and absorb energy from an incoming rock like we have. The damage will be from a direct surface hit at the rocks full speed and should be visible if it hits on our side of mars, and it will no doubt toss up a few megatons of ejecta, which due to the speed of the wind, will take a while to settle. That does have the possibility of finishing off the rovers. There is a slim chance some of the ejecta may even make it to earth and be found on the antarctic snow eventually, giving us a few more samples of our neighbor to study.

    If it hits where we can see it, it should be quite a show and I hope they have a good number of our telescopes, even Hubble, recording like crazy.

    I guess we'll find out January 30th. But if its on the far side, we may have to do before and after photo comparisons to find the crater once the dust has settled, and that won't be near as informative as a near side hit would be.

    Humm, recently the chinese were accused of doctoring a moon photo. Makes me wonder if the moved crater might in fact be a new one?

    --
    Cheers, Gene
    "There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty:
      soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order."
    -Ed Howdershelt (Author)
    10) there is no 10, but it sounded like a nice number :)
                    -- Wichert Akkerman
    • Err, what about the satellites NASA and ESA has in orbit around Mars?

      Mars Express
        http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars_Express [esa.int]

      Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
        http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/ [nasa.gov]

      Both are kinda closer than we are so may get a better picture.
      • Lack of specific instrumentation that is really suitable for observing this scientifically, if it does take place, and they will be just as blinded by the ensuing dirt in the atmosphere as our telescopes, plus the rather high probability they will be destroyed by the debris cloud ejected by the impact.

        --
        Cheers, Gene
        "There are four boxes to be used in defense of liberty:
        soap, ballot, jury, and ammo. Please use in that order."
        -Ed Howdershelt (Author)
        Except for 75% of the women, everyone in the whole w
    • recently the Chinese were accused of doctoring a moon photo

      That was just a stitching error. There was no new crater and no doctoring.

      http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2007/12/03/chinese-moon-update/ [badastronomy.com]
  • what will the effect be on the mars rovers i wonder.
  • by oni (41625) on Friday December 21, 2007 @08:57AM (#21778158) Homepage
    This article is worthless to me because it doesn't give information in standard astronomical units of measure. I need to know how many hiroshimas and how many school buses this thing represents!
  • by goodEvans (112958) <devans@airatla n t a.ie> on Friday December 21, 2007 @09:07AM (#21778252) Homepage
    Ack ack ack ack, ack-ack ack ack-ack.

    Ack, ack ACK-ack-ack, ack-ack ack-ack ack. Ack ack, ack-ack-ack-ack, ack ack ack.

    Ack ack,

    Ack-ack Ack-ack-ack-ack.
  • by The Fun Guy (21791) on Friday December 21, 2007 @09:27AM (#21778486) Homepage Journal
    Remember the famous Face on Mars [wikipedia.org]?

    The Sandia labs simulation of the Tunguska impact [sandia.gov] has its own face - forward the video to 3.13e+00 seconds to see the Face of Tunguska!

    Clearly, the Face on Mars is the "thumbprint" of a previous Tunguska event!
  • Oh My GOD!!!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by eno2001 (527078)
    It's not an asteroid! It's Planet X! The Niburu are returning to enslave us all as has been predicted for centuries! There is a lot of good info out there on the internet about how the power elite on Earth have been in contact with the Niburu since some time in the 50s. Time has been manipulated and we've been fooled into thinking that where we are today is where we're supposed to be. But we were much more advanced technologically in the 1940s and 1950s until some of the other alien races started messi
  • Somehow I get this mental image of one of the rovers watching that fat rock come whistling down and flattening it, all the while transmitting images of its own impending demise. And to top it off, seeing Slim Pickens on top of that bastard, whooping it up and waving his cowboy hat around.

    I gotta quit chugging those cans of Amp if I am to keep what is left of my sanity...
  • Tunguska (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunguska_event) wasn't an impact - Barringer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barringer_Crater) was an impact.
  • Orbit viewer (Score:2, Informative)

    by Peter Lake (260100)
    Orbit viewer for 2007 WD5: http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=2007%20WD5;orb=1;cov=0;log=0#orb [nasa.gov]

    Loos like the asteroid could come close to Earth's orbit in 2011. Hope it hits Mars before that!
  • The scientists won't be nearly so happy if it hits Rover, or Spirit.
  • ...for being called a disaster. Generally, when you hear of a disaster, you figure some people got killed.

    rj

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday December 21, 2007 @12:02PM (#21780646) Journal
    That's where Phobos and Deimos came from as well.

    Maybe they get a baby brother for Christmas!
  • Saturn has a ring system (probably because something smashed into an icy moon). Then we see impacts hit Jupiter. Now we're looking at a possible Mars impact.

    I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but has anyone looked at a chart of the Solar System recently? We appear to be next on the list after Mars.

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