Mars Rovers, Astronomers Photograph Rare Close Encounter Between Mars and Comet Siding Spring
It's more than 4.5 billion years old and it only comes into view roughly once every one million years, so it's safe to say this weekend's encounter with Comet Siding Spring is something of a rarity. Siding Spring shot within 130,000km (80,000 miles) of our planetary neighbor, Mars, and in doing so marked the closest encounter between a comet and a terrestrial planet ever witnessed. Orbital traffic around Mars is rather busy these days, and this close encounter with a 1km-wide comet had spacecraft scurrying to the other side of the planet to protect themselves from dust released by Siding Spring as it careened through space at speeds of over 125,000mph. Now, NASA has confirmed that their three Mars orbiters, Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN, have all emerged from the rare event unscathed. Better still, there are some beautiful images emerging from Earth, Mars and elsewhere across the solar system.
Such a rare encounter with this ancient object had spacecraft and observatories primed to capture the action, and the first images have been emerging online all morning. NASA's Mars rovers were hoping to capture shots of the action from the ground, while the likes of Hubble and WISE had the action covered from space. There were also a host of astrophotographers primed to capture the action from down here on Earth, and one of our favorite pieces to emerge from yesterday's events comes in the form of this video from Dr. Fritz Helmut Hemmerich.
NASA's Opportunity Rover team has just uploaded this image of Siding Spring from the rover's location on the surface of Mars on Sol 3817. Click here for a hi-res version.
Never one to be outdone by its predecessor, NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover has captured this image of Siding Spring. The comet can be seen towards the bottom right corner of the frame. Click here for a hi-res version.
If it's spectacular and it's going on in space, the chances are the Hubble space telescope is going to get in on the action. Comet Siding Spring was no exception.
This stunning shot, taken by Rolando Ligustri, shows Comet Siding Spring making its approach to Mars.
This wide-field shot from Nick Howes and Ron Wodaski shows Siding Spring and Mars muddled in with a scene that will make you feel very, very small.
Finally, this shot from Damian Peach shows both Mars and Siding Spring in remarkable clarity.
(Credit: SEN/Damian Peach)