Just doing quick ratios and squaring them, if the comet follows the initial projections, there are only about 230 large objects coming this close for every one that actually lands on Mars. (And Earth gets hit with about 3.5 of these for every one that hits Mars. Our last is estimated to be 65,957,000 +- 11,000 years ago.) This is literally a once in a million years near miss!
Of course the odds now are much higher than they normally would be. The fact that it is on a hyperbolic orbit means that it comes from outside of the Solar System. The density of such objects is much higher near the galactic plane than elsewhere. However the Sun bobs up and down, spending most of its time away from the galactic plane and crossing it every 30 million years or so. We last crossed it something like 100,000 years ago and are now heading away, so are still in a period where interstellar objects are more likely to come barreling through. So the odds are higher than they normally are, but even if you generously account for the currently increased risk, this is still a once in a civilization near miss.
Of course the initial estimate may be wrong. From the article the uncertainty is much bigger than the distance to Mars. If the uncertainty is the stated 650,000 miles, then we've got roughly a 1/24,000 chance of a direct impact. (I am sure that more informed people will come up with much better estimates in the not too distant future.)
How did you come to this estimate? The Martian radius is 3,400 km while the current projected closest approach is 109,000 km. I think the uncertainty the maximizes the chance of impact is just the difference of those two, so my best guess for a chance of impact is (3.4/109)^2 = 0.1% (one in a thousand). And any other quoted uncertainty by the scientists should only decrease this probability.
EDIT: Ahh, I see, you must have used diameter. I think radius is more appropriate here, but I don't think either of us are accurate enough for a factor of 4 to matter much.
Earth's largest crater is 300km across, and that's thought to have been created by an asteroid 5-10km in diameter. The 180km Chicxulub crater (this impact is generally believed to be largely responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs) was around 10km in diameter.
I'm kind of hoping this turns out to be something. I thought the Russian meteor the other week was a most amazing natural event, and something far bigger than that would be incredible (not to mention safe for humanity in this case).
EDIT: 50km is actually the upper estimated limit of the size of this comet. Wikipedia says 8-50km. It's still huge.
The trouble with "getting serious" is there are far more threats on earth which are far more likely and thus more important to deal with. Why give big focus to a potential extinction threat when there are many flash points around the world. Korea for example.
You then have the rising threat of cyber attacks. I wonder how well the general population of a country would do if it lost power for a week or two. I woke up with no power and when it came to making breakfast I felt a bit lost..
A few weeks ago someone in UK had a new virus and was in an isolation ward. I would say as we become even more over-crowded and travel becomes even easier a pandemic would potentially be as devastating and more likely than earth being hit by a large object.
A comet hit Jupiter in the 90's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Shoemaker%E2%80%93Levy_9) we watched it and did nothing about it.
Yes I understand that we may get serious about our own house when the neighbors house is on fire. But frankly I don't think we will ever get serious.
Right now Mankind's main priorities are in inventing weapons and finding most ingenious ways to kill each other.
This comment is absurd. There are, what, maybe 100,000 people in the entire world right now actively working on creating new weapons. Certainly less than 1/1000 of the population. This has hardly been a priority of mankind since the atom bomb - far more people are directly involved with preventing climate change. Most people are pretty forward thinking.
As far as preparing for a meteor/comet collision with Earth, we would definitely need to see an imminent threat before we really started making progress. If we got a first-hand look at a significant collision with Mars and were able to document just how catastrophic it is to the planet, I definitely think more attention would be paid to preparing for a similar situation on Earth.
Among my peers from college, a fairly broad spectrum of engineers, that number seems to be around 50%. I expect that is rather elevated due to particulars of that region, but I wonder what else can compare?
In other words, not "people working in weapons : the world" but rather "STEM workers in defense : STEM workers qualified to work in defense." Where are we allocating the brains of society?
On the other hand, Mars has been the subject of countless fantasies and observations, we have the surface well mapped and if we get a good look at the impact crater (or the impact itself) it will be a matter of hours before someone overlays a map of NYC or London on the imagery.
Mars being smaller than Earth also adds a lot of weight to the discussion. Something hitting Jupiter is just not unexpected, but if our smaller sibling gets struck then there is something to talk about.
and don't think for a second that the Jovians have forgotten about that. :(
I realize how crazy this is, but there's always reason to dream and brainstorm.
I am, too, but not because of any higher principles or concern for humanity. I simply think it would be incredibly entertaining to watch something that big smash into a planet at Mach 164. The fact that we have quite a few cameras on and above Mars is a huge bonus. It would be the closest we could get to experiencing an impact of that magnitude without the unfortunate side effect of existential oblivion.
On the other hand, I'm glad at least it passed one of the big countries like Russia, which now want to form an international anti-asteroid defense system. If this would've passed across Iceland, nobody would've cared.
Also, what the minimum pressure a human could survive with just a breathing mask?
At the college level, I've read papers about inserting specific genes into plants to increase their hardiness with thin atmospheres.
"Comet C/2013 A1 may fly past at a very safe distance of 0.008 AU (650,000 miles)," O'Neill wrote, "but to the other extreme, its orbital pass could put Mars directly in its path.
"the comet might pass just 41,000 km [...] from the planet’s centre [...] 100% certainty that the planet will pass through the gaseous envelope of the comet [...] will be subject to intensive bombardments by microparticles which, among other things, might cause malfunction of the space probes currently there."
Don't know if it would be 1000 years, but I'd guess it would coalesce into a ring like structure over time anyway.
Even amazing plans to build railguns on mountains to launch things to space requires some kind of secondary thrust to change into a new orbit that won't land back on the planet.
Anyway, I would think atmospheric dust storms as the post-impact pressure wave cycles around the plant would make Mars more messy in the hypothetical aftermath than any orbital debris.
Anyway, orbital mechanics are complex, Mars has 2 moons and the sun plus the solar wind all of which clean up it's orbit which is why it's so clear in the first place. However, it would be possible for Mars to collect this as another Moon which would be vary cool. Or worst case it collides with one of the existing moons and then you get a lot of junk in orbit.
However, if it hits the planet your home free.
When we talk about impacts changing climate on Earth, it has nothing to do with the instantaneous heat increase itself. It has to do with how the impact can change the rate at which Earth receives and retains heat, by changing the atmosphere. And Mars hasn't got very much atmosphere to change, so even that isn't much of a factor.
Our Earth intuitions are really wrong for dealing with the rest of the universe. The rest of the (known) universe doesn't have intelligent critters on it making active and wild changes in very short periods of cosmological time. The universe is generally full of stable systems, in the physics sense of the term "stable". To the extent that you think otherwise, it's because we humans are interested in the unstable bits and they get a lot of play in the press, but we know and talk about them because they are the exceptions.
(Assuming a bunch of CO2 actually were dumped into the atmosphere, that is.)
I assume it'll knacker any landers we have there as well through either seismic activity or dust penetration.
Truly enormous impacts can change the rules if thing hitting Mars is large enough to shift the center of mass of the whole system. The Moon is thought to have been formed from something the size of Mars or so hitting Earth a very long time ago. But even in our rather violent universe, that's the exception, not the rule, obviously.
"Preliminary observations by Goldstone radar in January 2013 have effectively ruled out the possibility of an Earth impact by Apophis in 2036."
(It's funny how 32 bits is about 70 years more than 31 bits, and the "31-bit epoch" started 70 years after the "32-bit epoch.")