The comet Sliding Spring flew past Mars yesterday giving us our first view of a comet from a different planet.
The images weren’t available in time for this post, but the Hubble image above shows how it looked earlier in the year.
Siding Spring went past Mars at 125,000mph (56km per second) and missing the planet by 86681 miles (139,500 km). Earlier projections didn’t have enough data, so there was a possibility that the comet would actually hit Mars.
There are currently eight active spacecraft operating either on the surface, Opportunity and Curiosity, and . The orbiting Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Orbiter Mission and the newly arrive Indian MRO spacecraft.
The simulated image above from the JPL/NASA simulator at http://space.jpl.nasa.gov/ show all the orbiters hiding behind the planet. Due to the close flyby, the comet is going to leave a lot of debris as it passes by. Any dust or debris traveling at that speed can severely damage these craft, so everyone moved their craft to the far side of the planet to wait for the all clear.
Comet debris can last for a very long time so this is something that may become happen every Martian year. We see the residue of comets regularly in the form of meteor showers.
– Ex astris, scientia –
I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +