A comet will soon whizz through MARS in a very historic cosmic event.
The space agency is aiming to be prepared with trained number of its science assets on Comet Siding Spring, including three Mars orbiters, two Mars rovers, and a suite of telescopes.
It will pass within 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of Mars on Oct. 19 and is said to be closest to Mars at 2:27 p.m. ET.
The distance from which it will pass at a speed of about 34 miles per second is about one-third the distance between the Earth and the moon.
The comet C/2013 A1 was first seen in January 2013 by astronomer Rob McNaught using Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory, while it was at the verge of completing its million-year journey toward the sun.
“Normally you send spacecraft to comets,” said Kelly Fast, a program scientist at NASA. “Here, the comet is coming to our spacecraft.”
As per the estimation of scientists based on the observations by a number of missions, including NASA’s Hubble, Swift, Spitzer and NEOWISE spacecraft, the comet’s nucleus lies in the range of half a mile and 5 miles wide and the surrounding gas cloud is 12,000 miles across, and its tail stretches for about 300,000 miles (480,000 km).
“On October 19, we’re going to observe an event that happens maybe once every million years,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division.
“We’re getting ready for a spectacular set of observations.”
“This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system’s earliest days,” said John Grunsfield, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate describing the event a “cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving.”
Examining its composition and behavior will enlighten with the conditions present at the birth of the solar system.
“That’s one of the reasons we study comets — they’re the remnants of our solar system’s formation,” commented Padma Yanamandra-Fisher, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute’s Rancho Cucamonga, California.
The researchers will be releasing the first images by Oct. 20.