Comet Siding Spring has raced past Mars at 125,000 mph. At its closest encounter on Sunday at 2:27 pm Eastern Time, the comet was just 87,000 miles from the red planet. NASA said in a statement that all three of its orbiters and rovers were unharmed. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN were maneuvered to the other side of the planet to prevent any damage. The space agency’s two rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, that were on the surface were protected by the Martian atmosphere.
NASA orbiters collect data on Siding Spring
Otherwise, Siding Spring’s debris of gas and dust moving at 125,000 miles per hour would have ruined them. The comet poses no threat to the Earth as it was headed to the outer reaches of the solar system. NASA’s rovers and satellites have captured some amazing pictures and collected data of the comet. The space agency said it would take them a few days to transfer the data and images.
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Many space and Earth-based telescopes including the Hubble Space Telescope also took pictures of the cosmic event. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) also studied the comet fly-by. Indian scientists had to maneuver MOM to protect it from the bombardment of dust particles from the comet.
What’s Siding Spring?
Siding Spring, also known as C/2013 A1, is a lump of rock and ice. Its icy core is just 1,000 meters wide. It comes from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region beyond the planets. According to NASA, the comet hasn’t changed much since its formation about 4.5 billion years ago. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter studied its shape, while other orbiters collected data on its dust and gas shroud.
Australian astronomer Robert McNaught first identified the comet at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia in January 2013. The comet got its name from this Australian observatory.