Dear readers and followers,
a comet will buzz Mars this Sunday, October 19th in an epic encounter that has astronomers around the world tingling with excitement. The comet is know by the name Siding Spring, also called as C/2013 A1. The comet will miss the Red Planet by just 140,000 kilometers at 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT) on Sunday. For comparison, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 384,600 km.
While the comet won't put on a show for skywatchers on Earth, the fleet of robotic explorers at Mars will get an eyeful. They will study the comet, as well as any observable interactions between its shed particles and the thin Martian atmosphere.
Comets are icy leftovers from the solar system's birth, and Siding Spring is a pristine object that has never been "heat-treated" by the sun before. So any insights about the comet's composition and behavior could help researchers better understand how our cosmic neighborhood began taking shape 4.6 billion years ago.
"This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency's diverse science missions will be in full receive mode," former astronaut John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days."
All five operational spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet — NASA's Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN probes, India's Mangalyaan spacecraft and Europe's Mars Express, will observe the flyby. And NASA's Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will crane their necks up to watch from the Martian surface as well.
Remember that this blog is free, but you can support us with Flattr