NASA’s Mars fleet poised for comet flyby

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  • Published: Oct 10, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Raman / Base Peak / UV/Vis Spectroscopy / Chemometrics & Informatics / Proteomics / Infrared Spectroscopy / NMR Knowledge Base / MRI Spectroscopy / X-ray Spectrometry / Atomic

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The combined forces of the NASA Martian space fleet will be temporarily diverted from their main missions to focus their attention on a unique event - a comet flyby. On October 19, comet Siding Spring, known unofficially as C/2013 A1, will come within 87,000 miles of Mars as it shoots by at 34 miles/second. If it were that close to the Earth it would pass between Earth and our moon.

It has a nucleus less than 1 mile in diameter and is made up of icy material which is thought to be remnants of the Solar System. It originates from the Oort Cloud, a vast area extending from the orbits of Neptune and Pluto towards Proxima Centauri, the closest neighbouring star. It is hoped that this, the comet’s first visit to our solar system, will provide clues to the materials that existed during the formation of the solar system.

"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," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

The NASA craft orbiting Mars, including Odyssey, Reconnaissance and MAVEN, will be repositioned in the shadow of Mars to prevent damage from the debris flying off the comet as it zooms by while still allowing them to make observations. They will be supported by earthbound and orbiting observatories and the rovers on the surface of Mars.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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