Mars and Comet Siding Spring

A Hubble look at Mars and comet Siding Spring. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/PSI/JHU/APL, STScI/AURA

A Hubble look at Mars and comet Siding Spring. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/PSI/JHU/APL, STScI/AURA

Have a look at this Hubble image of Mars AND comet Siding Spring in the same field of view during the close pass on 19 October. The comet came as close as 140,000 km / 87,000 miles – only a third of our Earth to Moon distance. I am trying to imagine what that would be like.

This from Hubblesite:

This composite of NASA Hubble Space Telescope images captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. The comet passed by Mars at approximately 87,000 miles (about one-third of the distance between Earth and the Moon). At that time, the comet and Mars were approximately 149 million miles from Earth.


The comet image shown here is a composite of Hubble exposures taken between Oct. 18, 8:06 a.m. EDT to Oct. 19, 11:17 p.m. EDT. Hubble took a separate photograph of Mars at 10:37 p.m. EDT on Oct. 18.

The Mars and comet images have been added together to create a single picture to illustrate the angular separation, or distance, between the comet and Mars at closest approach. The separation is approximately 1.5 arc minutes, or one-twentieth of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The background starfield in this composite image is synthesized from ground-based telescope data provided by the Palomar Digital Sky Survey, which has been reprocessed to approximate Hubble’s resolution. The solid icy comet nucleus is too small to be resolved in the Hubble picture. The comet’s bright coma, a diffuse cloud of dust enshrouding the nucleus, and a dusty tail, are clearly visible.


This is a composite image because a single exposure of the stellar background, comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic. Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and so could not be properly exposed to show detail in the Red Planet. The comet and Mars were also moving with respect to each other and so could not be imaged simultaneously in one exposure without one of the objects being motion blurred. Hubble had to be programmed to track on the comet and Mars separately in two different observations.


The images were taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Comet Encounter with Mars

In just a few days Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will make a close approach to the planet Mars.

Mark you calendars  19 October 2014 at 18:51 UTC.

The comet will come as close as 140,000 km /87,000 miles, that is only about a third of the distance to the moon. Can you just imagine what that would look like?


Slowing Rosetta

The Rosetta spacecraft is about to fire thrusters to slow down in preparation for its comet encounter in a few months.

Nine thruster burns between 21 May and 05 August (plus kind of a practice burn earlier this month) will slow Rosetta from 750 ms  to just 1 ms so the encounter with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The distance to the comet will decrease from a million kilometers to just 200 during this time.


May Camelopardalis

Earth is set to cross the debris path of comet 209P/LINEAR on 24 May 2014. No one knows quite what to expect. I’ll be finding out provided we have decent clouds.

The video suggests the best time is going to be around 0600 to 0800 UTC. If you are on the east coast of North America earlier in that range might be better because daybreak will be shortly after 0800 UTC.

How to find Camelopardalis? On the 24th (or any other time in the near future) you can find Camelopardalis by looking north. If the meteor shower is as busy as it could be, the location will be self evident. However, if there are only a few meteors or you just want to find it and have no idea, find the “Little Dipper” aka: Ursa Minor, and look from the dipper part down the “handle”, it points right to the area.

Still confused? Look above your northern horizon. Here’s a guide to help you out.

Video source

A Weirdo Comet – C/2014 C3

Comet C/2014 C3 a weirdo comet is the first found by NEOWISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comet C/2014 C3 a weirdo comet is the first found by NEOWISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) now has a comet discovery.

Officially named “C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE)”, the first comet discovery of the renewed mission came on Feb. 14 when the comet was about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth.

The odd thing about this comet is that is in a retrograde orbit. Amy Mainzer, the mission’s principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This comet is a weirdo – it is in a retrograde orbit, meaning that it orbits the sun in the opposite sense from Earth and the other planets.”

Check out the story here at the WISE website.

Comet Totas

Four images stacked and centered on the Comet. Creidit: TOTASESA/TOTAS/M. Micheli

Sometimes you just get a lucky break. A team of astronomers with Europe’s Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey team (TOTAS) has been credited with discovering comet P/2014 C1, named ‘TOTAS’ in recognition of the teamwork involved in the find.

The group found the comet while doing “routine” observations using a 1m telescope at ESA’s Optical Ground Station, Tenerife, Spain.

This isn’t one of those far flung comets. TOTAS orbits is between Mars and Jupiter and there it stays so it will never be close to Earth (all other things being equal that is). TOTAS is rather dim from reports, being only a magnitude 18 to 20 and this no doubt explains why it was just found. Like I said sometimes it takes a lucky break, I can just imagine how tickled the team was when they found out what they discovered.

If you would like to see an animated gif of TOTAS take a look at the ESA page.

Mars Comet Update

Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring image taken by the NEOWISE mission. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

You may remember a story about a comet coming quite close to the planet Mars. NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this image of the comet which is heading towards Mars and currently just inside the orbit of Jupiter.

The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will come within 138,000 km / 88,000 miles of the Martian surface. so the comet will miss Mars, however, dust from the comet could actually enevolop the planet.

This from NASA:

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which is slated to make a close pass by Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. The infrared pictures reveal a comet that is active and very dusty even though it was about 355 million miles (571 million kilometers) away from the sun on Jan. 16, 2014, when this picture was taken.

The infrared measurements will allow astronomers to determine the sizes and quantity of dust particles being flung off the comet. The measurements will also give engineers some indications of what orbiting spacecraft at Mars might expect when the comet gets close. Preliminary analysis of the data indicate approximately 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of dust are being ejected from the comet’s surface each second, assuming the grains are dark and nearly the density of water-ice. The comet’s activity is expected to increase as it gets closer to Mars.

There is more from NASA here.

Rosetta Gets to Work in 2014

Not too long into 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft will be brought out of hibernation after 957 days.

The ESA’s Rosetta mission to comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko starts a new chapter with the awakening of Rosetta at 10:00 UTC on 20 January 2014.

The mission, in typical ESA style, is very bold. The spacecraft travels beyond the main asteroid belt powered by solar cells. Once it gets to the the comet (rendezvous is in August 2014) the goal then becomes to put a lander on the comet surface.

If all that wasn’t enough, Rosetta will tag along with Churyumov–Gerasimenko for the next year!

I was hoping to put up something about the Mars Express flyby of Phobos but I’ve heard nothing so far.


Video Source

ISON Survives

ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO

ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO via SpaceRef

An update to yesterday’s post when I was unsure of whether ISON actually did survive and apparently it did although it could be in pieces. Glad I didn’t jump on the ISON is dead bandwagon the one newscast had running around — no wonder I don’t listen to that one network.

Hope to have a look at it soon, naturally there is a hill in the way though so it might be a few days from here. Time for a short road trip to get around the hill in question.

Thank goodness for my little Meade ETX scope, I can toss it in the car an go. Looking for a Christmas gift? The smaller Meade’s (and probably Celestron) are priced reasonably. A pair of image stabilizing binoculars would be a great gift too, best thing about them is the fact you can use them anytime. I heard once the best scope is the one you use the most and there is much truth in that. I would stay away from the department store “telescopes” though, and notice I’m not going to admonish you to NOT buy one, just if possible get something from a company that knows something about quality optics. If a sales pitch involves telling you how powerful the product is, consider that a red-flag. Concern yourself with optical quality first.

There, before I really get going, back to the original point of the post. Here’s a press release from the Max Planck Institute:

The unusual shape of the comet’s tail permits conclusions about yesterday’s encounter with the sun November 29, 2013

At the time of its closest approach to the sun, comet ISON still had an active nucleus which was spewing gas and dust. This is the assessment made by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg- Lindau. They are currently analyzing actual pictures of the instrument LASCO which enjoys a unique view of the comet from its vantage point on board of the Solar Observatory SOHO. From the assessments, it is not clear whether the nucleus still exists or whether it partially fragmented on its fiery swing around the sun.
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Sizzle and Poof

First the sizzle:

ISON appears to have lost a lot of it’s “comet goodness” during its sizzling close-encounter with the Sun. There does seem to be a little bit of it left and a tail seems to be growing as you can see at the very end of this (SOHO) video at the ESA channel. How long will it last and is there really anything left that the solar wind won’t strip away? Too soon to tell.

I was watching television this morning and the program did one of those “cut-ins” with a “news” network, one that I never watch on its own, and they were declaring ISON dead. This is the same “news” network ridiculing SpaceX for aborting last afternoon’s launch attempt, the attempt being the second this week and how inept they were yada-yada.

I did see the launch attempt and no the launch didn’t happen, still, it was quite exciting. The abort came at the moment after the main engines lit off, then poof it was over. No word on the reason for this abort yet. You must know the coverage by Space X was excellent, the two hosts and non-PR Space X employees, Molly and John were awesome in their explanations of the events of the countdown and mission. They made the time spent watching worth it. Really a very-very good job.