What You Need to Know About Mars Comet Siding Spring

  • On Sunday, October 19th, Comet C/2013 A1, aka Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles of the Red Planet. The comet is between 0.5-5 miles wide.

  • The distance the comet will be from Mars is less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

  • Siding Spring most likley created in our outer solar system between Jupiter and Neptune around 4.6 billion years ago — just a few million years after the solar system formed. Scientists believe Siding Spring had a close encounter with one of these planets and was shot out into the Oort Cloud

  • A million years ago or so, a star passing by the Oort Cloud is thought to have bumped the comet’s orbit again, sending it on its current trip toward the inner solar system.

  • Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere.

  • NASA does not think the comet hit the Red Planet, but comets spew out a trail of dust and gas, and that could damage the fleet of spacecraft orbiting Mars. Just to be safe, NASA will move the Mars Odyssey orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the new Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) to the other side of the planet as the comet approaches.

  • The Mars orbiters will take pictures and collect data on the comet as it flys by. Several Earth-based and space telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, also will take pictures. Here is the full list of NASA assets observing Siding Spring

  • The comet was first discovered in January 2013 by Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

  • Check out this great article from Space.com on how to view the comet from Earth 

(Source: mars.nasa.gov)

"Shocking" Discovery from Saturn’s Moon Hyperion


Static electricity is known to play an important role on Earth’s airless, dusty moon, but evidence of static charge building up on other objects in the solar system has been elusive until now. A new analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini mission has revealed that, during a 2005 flyby of Hyperion, the spacecraft was briefly bathed in a beam of electrons coming from the moon’s electrostatically charged surface. The finding represents the first confirmed detection of a charged surface on an object other than our moon, although it is predicted to occur on many different bodies, including asteroids and comets.

Hyperion is porous and icy, with a bizarre, sponge-like appearance. Its surface is continuously bombarded by ultraviolet light from the sun and exposed to a rain of charged particles — electrons and ions — within the invisible bubble generated by Saturn’s magnetic field, called the magnetosphere. The researchers think Hyperion’s exposure to this hostile space environment is the source of the particle beam that struck Cassini.

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(Source: NASA JPL)

India’s first spacecraft to visit Mars has sent back one of the most incredible photos yet of the Red Planet. This image from the Mangalyaan probe was unveiled today by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The planet’s southern ice cap is clearly visible while a huge dust storm blankets part of the northern region. The spacecraft used its Mars Color Camera to capture the amazing photo from a distance of 46,292 miles above the Red Planet.

(Credit: Indian Space Research Organisation)

Spanning 4,000 light-years across, NGC 206 is the richest star cloud in M31 as well as one of the largest and brightest star formation regions of the Local Group. Also known as Andromeda, M31 is a spiral galaxy just 2.5 million light-years away. NGC 206 is near top center in this gorgeous close-up of the southwestern extent of Andromeda’s disk. The bright, blue stars of NGC 206 indicate its youth. In fact, its youngest massive stars are less than 10 million years old. 

Earlier this month, photographer James Woodend claimed the 2014 Astronomy Photographer Of The Year title for this breathtaking image of the Northern Lights dancing over Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon. Known as Jökulsárlón, the lagoon is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. You may also recognize it from movies like A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins.

sagansense:

Our lovely blue planet, the Earth, is the only home we know. Venus is too hot. Mars is too cold. But the Earth is just right, a heaven for humans. After all, we evolved here. But our congenial climate may be unstable. We are perturbing our poor planet in serious and contradictory ways. Is there any danger of driving the environment of the Earth toward the planetary Hell of Venus or the global ice age of Mars? The simple answer is that nobody knows. The study of the global climate, the comparison of the Earth with other worlds, are subjects in their earliest stages of development. They are fields that are poorly and grudgingly funded. In our ignorance, we continue to push and pull, to pollute the atmosphere and brighten the land, oblivious of the fact that the long-term consequences are largely unknown. A few million years ago, when human beings first evolved on Earth, it was already a middle-aged world, 4.6 billion years along from the catastrophes and impetuosities of its youth. But we humans now represent a new and perhaps decisive factor. Our intelligence and our technology have given us the power to affect the climate. How will we use this power? Are we willing to tolerate ignorance and complacency in matters that affect the entire human family? Do we value short-term advantages above the welfare of the Earth? Or will we think on longer time scales, with concern for our children and our grandchildren, to understand and protect the complex life-support systems of our planet? The Earth is a tiny and fragile world. It needs to be cherished.
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)

Read it all. And keep in mind, as we move forward with our lives beyond this important (and hopefully historic) moment in our developing history, that Carl would have not only been right alongside those protesting around the world for global climate action, he would have most certainly been one of the key featured speakers at the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit.