An artist's concept of Comet Siding Spring swinging past Mars.

Week in Geek: Mars gets company today, from Comet Siding Spring

There’s a high-speed flyby taking place today, but not here on Earth – on Mars. At 2:27 P.M. Eastern, a comet going over 125,000 mph will buzz by Mars at less than a third the distance between the Earth and the Moon, just under 90,000 miles. The comet is named Comet Siding Spring, a first-time visitor to the inner Solar System from the Oort Cloud (like Comet ISON was last year).

As I’ve mentioned before, comets from the Oort Cloud are thought to be remnants of the formation of the Solar System. Any opportunity to study them up close and personal gives us more insight into how our planet formed and how other planets around other stars might be forming. Not only will many Earth-based telescopes be observing the comet’s close approach today, but so will several of the instruments we’ve sent to the Red Planet. The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be watching from the surface, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN satellites will observe it from orbit.

This event is not only a great opportunity to learn more about Comet Siding Spring, and thereby the Oort Cloud, but it will also provide a unique opportunity to study the atmosphere of Mars. Even though the comet will be some 90,000 miles away, that’s still close enough for the comet’s coma to potentially engulf the entire planet. Planetary scientists will be eagerly watching for interactions between ice and dust particles from the comet and the Martian atmosphere.

Below is a great video from NASA summarizing this exciting event and for the hard-core space fans out there, Slooh will be hosting a live webcast.

Here’s some other geek from the inner Solar System this week:

Keep on geeking! @Summer_Ash


Rachel Maddow Show Geek

Week in Geek: Mars gets company today, from Comet Siding Spring