Science

Giant Comet May Hit Mars In 2014

By Pierre Dumont , Feb 28, 2013 01:11 PM EST

A part of a large comet may hit Mars in 2014. 

Comet-hunter Robert McNaught discovered the comet, named C/ 2013 A1 (Siding Spring), in early 2013 at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia.

Following the discovery, Catalina Sky Survey astronomers found the comet in their own data from observations on Dec. 8, 2012. This allowed them to assist with determining the orbit of the object, concluding as a result that it will get close to Mars around Oct. 19, 2014. The comet should miss the planet by a normal distance of about 60,000 miles.

Additional observations made this week by the ISON-NM observatory in New Mexico allowed for even greater clarification. This new data indicates that the comet may pass even closer than thought before, potentially getting within 23,000 miles.

The orbit of the comet, however, is affected by its proximity to the sun, which has an effect on the comet's temperature and therefore speed. More will be known this summer, when additional observations are possible.

Comets are composed of a number of loose elements wrapped in what is called a "coma," a large cloud of gas. In this case the comet's coma may be larger than the expected distance between the comet and Mars. If this is the case, Mars will likely get hit by debris.

This could make for one heck of a meteor shower.

"Even if it doesn't impact, it will look pretty good from Earth, and spectacular from Mars, probably a magnitude-4 comet as seen from Mars' surface," Australian astronomer Ian Musgrave says.

If the comet does hit Mars, it will result in a huge explosion with a crater hundreds of kilometers in diameter. This would be the largest collision Mars has see in ages. The more likely scenario, however, is that the comet will pass by and give us a spectacular light show.

TAG comet, Mars, 2014
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