MAVEN's View of Siding Spring at Mars
Today is the day. On Oct 19, 2014, the comet Siding Spring is set to pass within 88,000 miles of Mars. For a comparison, the distance between the Moon and the Earth is 238,900 miles.
Observing Comet Siding Spring at Mars. Credit: MAVEN (YouTube)
NASA will be watching the comet with the entire fleet of active orbiters and rovers now at Mars. MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission) will be studying how gas and dust from the comet interact with the upper atmosphere of Mars.
However, NASA will also need to position orbiting spacecraft in a safe spot for the cometary encounter – ensuring that materials shed from the comet do not strike any sensitive mission equipment.
The material released by Siding Spring will be traveling at around 35 miles per second, relative to the spacecraft. At that speed, even tiny flecks of material can cause a lot of damage.
Siding Spring is an object that originates from a region of the outer solar system known as the Oort cloud.
Studying Siding Spring will help astrobiologists understand the nature of objects in this distant and mysterious region of the Solar System. Some theories suggest that these objects could have delivered water and other materials to the early Earth that were essential for the origins of life on our planet.
For more information from NASA (and some cool interactive content), visit: http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/