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:
- Beautiful animated info-graphic of 42 species of butterflies found in North America.
- The earwax build up in the ears of blue whales preserves evidence of our past pesticide use.
- Phenomenally accurate models of insects created using a 3D printer.
- New York State court hears case on whether chimpanzees have the right to "personhood."
- A great write-up of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine research on how particular brain cells function as an internal GPS system.
- In the age of information, search engines might actually be making us dumber.
- Map geek: here's how to locate and download a topographic map from the U.S. Geological Survey of any place in the country your heart desires.
- More map geek: interactive map of US allows you to see how population density differs between urban and rural areas.
- Even more map geek: explore the ocean floor with this super detailed 3D map based on gravity differentials measured FROM SPACE.
- Archeologists report their latest findings from diving among the wreckage of an ancient Greek shipwreck. [VIDEO]
- This tetrachromatic artist has an extra type of cone receptor in her retina which allows her to see 100 times more colors than the rest of us.
Keep on geeking! @Summer_Ash