C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)

Leonid Elenin, Russian comet hunter and discoverer of the famed Comet C/2010 X1 Elenin, has examined C/2013 A1’s orbit and found there’s a small chance it could collide with the planet Mars on October 19 next year.

Based on 74 days of observations plus the latest data from Elenin, which admittedly only cover a short piece of the comet’s arc, A1 could zoom as close as 22,990 miles (37,000 km) from the surface of Mars and shine 40 times brighter than Venus at magnitude -8.5 as seen from Mars that is.

C/2013 A1 turns out to be a potentially BIG comet with a diameter estimated at up to 31 miles (50 km) across.

Scientists are in the early stages of assembling a comet-watching campaign that uses a spacecraft currently orbiting the Red Planet, as well as rovers on the Martian surface.
Scientists are also investigating what techniques could be used to prevent cometary debris from hitting Mars-orbiting spacecraft as the comet and planet converge.
Although not expected to pass particularly close to Earth next year, the comet will have a very close brush with Mars. Leonid Elenin, Russian comet hunter and discoverer of the famed Comet C/2010 X1 Elenin, has examined C/2013 A1’s orbit and found there’s a small chance it could collide with the planet Mars on October 19 next year.
Based on 74 days of observations plus the latest data from Elenin, which admittedly only cover a short piece of the comet’s arc, A1 could zoom as close as 22,990 miles (37,000 km) from the surface of Mars and shine 40 times brighter than Venus at magnitude -8.5 … as seen from Mars that is. Earth observers will see it around 8th magnitude, so you’ll need a pair of binoculars at minimum.
Since a comet’s tenuous outer atmosphere – called a coma – is typically around 62,000 miles (100,000 km) across, C’/2013 A1 is practically guaranteed to give the planet a gentle powdering.
C/2013 A1 turns out to be a potentially BIG comet with a diameter estimated at up to 31 miles (50 km) across.
Such an event would overshadow even the famous bombardment of Jupiter by the disintegrated comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 in July 1994, which by some estimates was originally15 km (9 miles) in diameter.”
For observers in the U.S., Canada and South America, the planet and comet, should it survive, will be only about half a degree apart at dusk the evening of the 19th. Big blast or not, they’ll certainly make for a memorable sight in a telescope.
The new comet has been given the scientific designations is comet C/2013 A1 The Scottish-Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught discovered her on January 3, 2013.
McNaught is a very avid observer of comets and asteroids and he has 74 comet discoveries to his name to date.
When it was discovered, Comet Siding Spring was 1076 million kilometers (669 million miles) from the sun.
It is expected to pass closest to the sun (called perihelion) on October 25, 2014 at a distance of 195 million kilometers (130 million miles).
Preliminary calculations suggest that nominally at closest approach, Comet Siding Spring will come to within 101,000 kilometers (63,000 miles) of Mars. The asteroid is estimated to have a nucleus of 7.5-45 kilometers (5 to 30 miles) in diameter.
More obeservations of the path of the Spring Siding comet could bring good news or bad news as recent observations (on February 27, 2013) by Leonid Elenin, a reputable Russian astronomer who works at the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, suggested that the comet could pass even closer to Mars. As close as just 41360 kilometers (25,700 miles) from the center of Mars.
Spring Siding is moving at 35 miles per second, and such a collision could create an impact crater on Mars up to ten times the diameter of the comet’s nucleus and up to 1.25 miles deep.
This will actually be the second close encounter of Mars by a passing space rock within a year, as on October 1 of this year, the Comet ISON is due to pass 10 million kilometers (6.5 million miles) from Mars while travelling towards the Sun. Although the flyby of ISON is already thought to be a close pass, Siding Spring will approach about 100 times closer.
The new comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) was discovered Jan. 3 by the Scottish-Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught, a prolific observer of both comets and asteroids who has 74 comet discoveries to his name.
The impact would be so large because not only is the comet huge (the core nucleus could range from 15 to 50 km wide), but it’s travelling at fantastic speeds, nearing 55 km per second.
The latest trajectory of comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) generated by the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., indicates the comet will pass within 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) of Mars and there is a strong possibility that it might pass much closer.
The NEO Program Office’s current estimate based on observations through March 1, 2013, has it passing about 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) from the Red Planet’s surface.
Scientists generated the trajectory for comet Siding Spring based on the data obtained by observations since October 2012.

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