Have you ever pondered what it would be like for a comet to smash into a planet? Well, you’ll have to keep pondering on, at least for a little while. This coming October, a comet is set to “graze” Mars. The comet is described as having a “small but non-negligible” chance of impact. O.0?!
Crazy right? Almost sounds kind of like those bad disaster movies on Syfy, not really but still. Lets dig into this juicy beast.
The comet was discovered back in January of 2013. Its official ID is Siding Spring C/2013 A1.
Comet names, amirite?! But most internet sources have just been shortening it down to Comet Siding Spring.
The comet was first discovered when it was about at Jupiter’s distance from the Sun. So why such short notice? Partly because this comet is approaching from below the orbital plane, while most objects are pretty much in the same plane as the planets, or slightly skewed.
Just look at it!
It is believed that this will be the first time the comet passes the sun. The comet is most probably from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region around our system that is believed to be the source of comets and what not. The comet will not be seen for another million years!
Let’s get on to the actual focus of our topic: the meeting with Mars. The comet was, as of July, estimated to miss Mars by 82,000 miles. That is pretty close–if compared with Earth, that would fly between the Moon and Earth, being closer to Earth than the moon!
For now, scientists are pretty positive it will not impact the planet. However, they do believe that the planet will move right through the tail of the comet. From the surface, it should look like a bright meteor shower or maybe even auroras as the dust and other particles bombard the atmosphere.
Currently there are three satellites and two rovers at Mars, with another satellite set to arrive next month. There is not much fear about issues with the rovers like our pal Curiosity. The satellites, however, were not designed to fly through comet debris (worst case scenario: the movie Gravity). Consequently, precautions have been taken and the orbits tweaked so that the satellites will not be on the near side of the planet during the comet’s passing. This alone should let you know the potential seriousness of this! Are you foaming at the mouth yet?
One thing that can be learned from this is how the comet’s nearby passing will affect the atmosphere. The spacecraft will be examining what will happen as the dust enters Mars. Coincidentally, the soon-to-arrive satellite is designed to study the atmosphere. Irony, luck, divine providence? Or all of the above?
The comet is already shooting out some gas so its orbit could change; maybe we’ll get lucky, and it will just shift enough to collide with Mars.
Comet Siding Spring, taken in March
A collision would prove an even better opportunity for study! Why? I’ll tell you why. Theories about the origin of life on our planet is that it came by “comet seeding”: basically, comets impacting Earth and depositing water and other elements for life. So an impact could at least show a little of that process–maybe. One can hope. You can be sure I’ll be revisiting this in the coming months!
What do you think? Did you learn something fun? Does the thought of a planet getting smacked by one of these cosmic babes wet your, erm, appetite? Do you feel it?