Comet Siding Spring meets the Solar System once in one million years. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for astronomers to see it, as it was discovered in January 2013 at the Siding Spring Observatory. Comet C/2013 A1 Sliding Spring’s large trajectory is almost colliding with Mars’s, but it is going to miss the red planet by 84,000 miles. The comet’s appearance is expected at the end of October 2014, and it will not be visible to the naked eye from Earth. The closest distance to our planet will be 130 million miles.
Currently, comet Siding Spring is approaching Jupiter’s orbit, now going towards Earth’s red neighbor. As it comes closer to the Sun, the tail made of gas and dust is becoming more visible. Researchers are not quite sure if the equipment on Mars, which are the NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, are going to get affected. They believe that even a little bit of it can be dangerous. First, Siding Spring is going to be very close, about one third of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Second, even though the atmosphere is only about one percent of the Earth’s, they are predicting that the comet is not going to enter it, by the numbers of the trajectory calculations, and by the images picked up by the Hubble Space Telescope. As the Mars Express team from the European Space Agency reports, they are going to be actively observing the length of the comet’s tail and the coma’s behavior (the cloud of dust and other particles surrounding comet’s nucleus). They also add for the Planetary Society Blog that the man-made space debris in orbit around Earth (the remains of the satellites) could seriously harm the equipment, with their relative velocities being 7 kilometers a second. According to their calculations, the relative velocities of comet Siding Spring will rise as the energy levels rise for 64 times!
Dr. Jian-Yang Li from The Planetary Science Institute in Tuscan, Arizona commented for The Almagest that their information is very critical and critical to see if the comet’s dust and grains will affect the equipment on Mars. Dr. Rick Zurek, chief scientist at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory, California added that they do plan on discussing plans to avoid any kind of potential satellite malfunctions and catastrophes. Even with the best possible ways to deal with the comet’s close approach, it could not be enough protection. Chances are currently impossible for repair, and it could cost a whole new project launch.
The tail of Siding Spring is about 12,000 miles across. As the comet gets closer to the Sun, it will give a better idea to the astronomers of how much the dust and gas material is being shredded. The industry of experts, professionals and scientists are already prepared for the event, brainstorming and discussing the potential risks. They have begun the countdown to comet Siding Spring’s approach to Mars, as this is one of the most interesting night sky events for 2014, and it may turn challenging.
by Marija Makeska