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Monday, July 04, 2005

F=MA, but that's not important

In the past few days, I have seen several posts on the internet from people who are concerned about NASA's mission to slam a spacecraft into Tempel 1. The fear is that we may alter the trajectory of a comet that is already rather close to Earth.

Hitting this comet is like hitting a 747 with a small pebble. It's highly unlikely that the 747 will crash.

But it's not impossible. Suppose Deep Impact (the appropriately named probe) were to ignite material within the comet? Or suppose the crater were to spew ejecta for a long period of time. Certainly, the impact of NASA's mission won't directly affect the trajectory. However, the ejection of material from the comet, over the course of weeks or months, could easily affect the course of Tempel 1.

But, space is big and the Earth is relatively very small. The odds of any trajectory alteration putting the comet on a collision course with Earth are many millions to one.

So, rest easy. It's highly unlikely that some sort of Amageddon will occur over the next few years.

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