posted at 18:50
Author Name: Jenny Vaughan
Comet Siding Spring whizzes past Mars
The comet, known as Siding Spring, made its closest encounter with Mars on Sunday at 2:27 pm, racing past the Red Planet at a breakneck 126,000 miles per hour. Before the comet passed, it could be seen in space racing toward the brightly illuminated Red Planet, trailed by a cloud of debris. "What could be more exciting than to have a whopper of an external influence like a comet, just so we can see how atmospheres do respond?" asked Nick Schneider, the remote sensing team leader from NASA's MAVEN mission to Mars. NASA's fleet of Mars-orbiting satellites and robots on the planet's surface were primed for the flyby of the comet, hoping to capture the rare event and collect a trove of data for Earthlings to study. MAVEN, NASA's latest Mars orbiter, reported back to Earth in "Good health" after spending about three hours ducking a possible collision with the comet's high-velocity dust particles, the US space agency said. "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. Before the comet entered the red Planet's orbit, NASA moved its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN to avoid damage by the comet's high-speed debris. The comet has traveled more than one million years to ake its first pass by Mars, and will not return for another million years, after it completes its next long loop around the sun.

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