Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Mars madness

It was amazing. About a month ago, scientists were fidgeting excitedly in their seats because someone had detected a "small" asteroid that could possibly hit Mars at the end of January.

The asteroid, a 50-metre wide piece of rock codenamed 2007 WD5, was travelling somewhere between the earth and the red planet but it was hidden from earth's view because it was behind the moon at that time. This led to a lot of speculation, including people at NASA initially offering a one-in-75 chance of a collision.

Then, after the asteroid reappeared from behind the moon on 28 Dec 2007, someone recalculated the odds and shortened them to one-in-25. A week later, someone else said no, the odds were actually one-in-28. Never mind all that niggling over 25 or 28. Would we be seeing a collision on one of earth's nearest celestial neighbours?

However, there was one problem with all these calculations and odds. A one-in-25 odds is still, well, astronomical. The possibility of the event occurring is still remote. It's not like throwing a tennis ball at close range against the side of a house but more like scoring a goal with the tennis ball from across half a football field. Sorry...I don't know the odds for successfully getting the ball into the goal mouth but it must be equally ... astronomical.

By 10 Jan when people at NASA finally gave up drinking because the 12 days of Christmas were well and truly over, they said that their slide rule now offered the probability of a hit on the planet to be one-in-10,000. How disappointing it must've been for them and millions of people worldwide who thought they could see some fireworks on Mars.

Today, scientists have already given up all hope. Probability has been reduced to zero. The closest that the asteroid will be from Mars is 26,oookm, someone said. Duhh...26,000km. No more excitement. Let's get back to watching the stars. Maybe, they'll spy one more wayward asteroid soon, one with a one-in-25 odds, hurtling towards the earth. Now, that would be really exciting, wouldn't it?

No comments: