Comet Siding Spring’s encounter with Mars has been dubbed a “once-in-a-lifetime” event by researchers.
On Sunday, at 2:27 p.m ET, Siding Spring came within 87,000 miles of the red planet. That’s about one-third the distance between us and the moon. All seven spacecraft orbiting Mars, including three NASA orbiters, were moved into safer orbits. The orbiters were also planning on observing the comet as it rocketed past Mars at more than 126,000 mph.
How big is Siding Spring? It’s nucleus measures about 0.4 miles in diameter.
In a statement, NASA officials reported all three NASA orbiters “confirmed their healthy status Sunday.”
“We’re glad the spacecraft came through, we’re excited to complete our observations of how the comet affects Mars, and we’re eager to get to our primary science phase,” said MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky.
NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter also got in on the action yesterday. The Odyssey Orbiter has been above Mars since 2001 and holds the record for “the longest-lived robot ever sent to Mars.”
“The telemetry received from Odyssey this afternoon confirms not only that the spacecraft is in fine health but also that it conducted the planned observations of comet Siding Spring within hours of the comet’s closest approach to Mars,” said Odyssey Mission Manager Chris Potts of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Now, where’s all the awesome images? The Slooh Community Observatory snapped this one yesterday as the comet neared Mars.
But, images from Mars orbiters could take a few days as researchers process the data.
Don’t expect Siding Spring to make it back to Mars anytime soon. The next flyby isn’t expected for another million years.
Image credit: NASA; Slooh Community Observatory