NASA says asteroid (slightly) less likely to hit Mars

NASA scientists are ever-so-slightly backing off the odds that a fast-approaching asteroid will slam into Mars by the end of the month.

No boom?

The scientists tracking the trajectory of an asteroid streaking toward Mars have slightly reduced the odds of the asteroid hitting the red planet reduced the odds from 1-in-25 to 1-in-28 based on data from the past few days, NASA said Thursday in a news release.

The observations were made this week by the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico, operated by New Mexico Tech. Still, the asteroid is expected to pass within 30,000 miles of Mars at about 6 a.m. EST Jan. 30.

A 1-in-75 shot is "wildly unusual," Steve Chesley, an astronomer with the Near-Earth Object office told the Los Angeles Times recently. "We're used to dealing with odds like one-in-a-million," Chesley said. "Something with a one-in-a-hundred chance makes us sit up straight in our chairs."

NASA said the asteroid was increasingly difficult to observe through December, it should become observable again early in January. That will lead to a significant improvement in the orbit accuracy, and we will then be able to refine the probability that the asteroid might collide with Mars, NASA said.

Asteroid 2007 WD5 was first discovered Nov. 20 and put on a "watch list" because its orbit passes near Earth. NASA has determined the asteroid is not a danger to Earth."We estimate such impacts occur on Mars every thousand years or so," Chesley said last month in a statement. He said the asteroid could hit Mars at about 30,000 miles per hour and create a crater more than a half-mile wide. Such a collision could release about three megatons of energy.

NASA scientists believe an event of comparable magnitude occurred on Earth in 1908 in Siberia, although the object was disintegrated by Earth's atmosphere before it hit the ground. The air blast devastated a large area of unpopulated forest.NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth.

The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," plots the orbits of about 5,000 objects yearly to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

Last year a NASA scientist has proposed using the using the replacement to the space shuttle, known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle to land on a near-Earth asteroid. The CEV is due to make its maiden flight in 2014, with the eventual aim of ferrying astronauts to and from the Moon.

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