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Potential ‘comet of the century’ ISON to buzz Mars soon

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The Hubble Space Telescope captured this view of Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON), on May 8 as it streaked between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars at a speed of about 48,000 mph. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this view of Comet ISON, C/2012 S1 (ISON), on May 8 as it streaked between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars at a speed of about 48,000 mph.

Earthlings may be treated to a dazzling celestial display this fall as Comet ISON makes a suicidal plunge toward the sun. But spacecraft exploring Mars are poised to get close-up views of the icy wanderer first.

“Comet ISON is paying a visit to the Red Planet,” astronomer Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab said in a statement. “On Oct 1st, the comet will pass within 0.07 AU from Mars, about six times closer than it will ever come to Earth.”

One AU, or astronomical unit, is the distance between the Earth and sun, about 93 million miles (150 million kilometers). Comet ISON’s Mars flyby, at 0.07 AU, will be about 6.5 million miles (10.4 million km).

Comet ISON may brighten enough for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity to see it from the surface of the Red Planet. However, Lisse said the best chance for a Martian sighting lies with the space agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The MRO satellite is equipped with a powerful telescope named HiRISE that is intended to take pictures the Red Planet’s surface. But researchers think the instrument will be capable of turning its gaze into space to detect the comet’s atmosphere and tail.

“The camera is designed for rapid imaging of Mars,” the HiRISE’s telescope’s principal investigator, Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, said in a statement. “Our maximum exposure time is limited compared to detectors on other space telescopes. This is a major limitation for imaging comets. Nevertheless, I think we will detect Comet ISON.”

The satellite is set to take observations of the comet on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 and 2. The observations could help researchers prepare for a comet that is set to fly even closer to Mars in October 2014.

“The science value of observing Comet ISON is hard to predict. We’ve never tried such a thing before,” McEwen said. “However, this is good practice for Comet Siding Spring, which will pass much closer to Mars in 2014.”…
… Read more at http://www.nbcnews.com/science/potential-comet-century-ison-buzz-mars-soon-8C11073465

Video: Comet ISON’s Path Through the Solar System

Written by physicsgg

September 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

Posted in ASTRONOMY, ASTROPHYSICS

Tagged with ,

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