Comet Siding Spring’s ~ Near Collision with Mars – October 19, 2014

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Astronomers have been waiting with bated breath for the big day – October 19, 2014 – as Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) nearly misses the planet Mars in its maiden journey through the inner solar system. The feature sky chart above shows the red planet Mars and Comet Siding Spring snuggling up together in the western sky on the evening of October 19. The comet probably won’t be bright enough to observe through ordinary binoculars, so we simply show Comet Siding Spring’s location in the sky with an arrow. If you have a telescope, by all means try your luck. For the latest prognosis, check out heavens-above, comet chasingor the sky live.

Comet Siding Spring is predicted to swing closest to Mars on October 19, at 18:28 Universal Time. Although a direct collision with Mars seems unlikely, the comet’s nucleus is expected to come within 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers) of Mars, or about one-third the moon’s distance from Earth. That counts as a near miss, especially as the comet’s coma of gas and dust will probably engulf the red planet! In way of contrast, the closest comet to swing by Earth in recorded history was Lexell’s Comet, at six times the moon’s distance from Earth (6 x 384,400 kilometers or 238,855 miles) in the year 1770.

View larger Image credit: NASA

Robert McNaught first spotted Comet Siding Spring on January 3, 2013, in front of the constellation Lepus, at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Traveling at a snail’s pace when the comet first left the Oort Cloud millions of years ago, the comet continued to accelerate as it got closer to the sun. As it makes its closest encounter with Mars on October 19, Comet Siding Spring and its trail of dust will be flying at about 125,000 miles (200,00 kilometers) per hour. The comet will reach perihelion – its closest point to the sun – on October 25, 2014.

Comet Siding Spring Planned Science Observations

View larger Image credit: NASA Mars Exploration

Of course, the best place to observe the comet would be Mars. Let’s hope the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) Camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter manages to get some high-resolution images of Comet Siding Spring, our visitor from the extreme outskirts of the solar system!

Comet Siding Spring’s close encounter with Mars

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