Comet gives Mars a close shave

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

comet diagram
That certainly puts it into perspective!

The comet called C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) has spent nearly a million years on the fringes of our Solar System, but now, its orbit brought the large rock on a hurtling path towards the inner planets. Earth is pretty much in the clear, but Mars definitely had a close brush with the speeding rock this week!

Siding Spring was discovered last year, and researchers have been keeping close tabs on the icy space rock. Fortunately, the comet did not collide with Mars directly. However, the comet’s coma – a cloud of smaller rocks, gas, and dust that surrounds the main rock – is about as big as Earth itself!

According to the most recent photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, some of these smaller rocks are being projected out at a speed of more than 125,000 miles per hour, or about 34 miles per second. Whoa.

This had astronomers worried, since NASA has some very expensive equipment orbiting around Mars, and it was at risk of getting struck. Plus, the comet came within 87,000 miles of the Red Planet – or about half the distance between Earth and the Moon – and rocks from the coma were shooting out in every direction. To avoid the damage, scientists directed the orbiters to be on the opposite side of Mars when the comet arrived. As for the rover robots moving on the dusty surface of the Red Planet, they were already safely out of harm’s way, because the thick atmosphere provided enough protection for the vehicles. With so much gadgetry close by, NASA got a front row seat to watch the spectacular comet and it cruised by.

Featured image courtesy of ScienceAtNASA on YouTube. Image of comet in space courtesy of NASA.