by Cat Ellen, contributing writer
Comet Flyby Gone By
Comet Siding Spring, officially designated Comet C/2013 A1, provided a rare opportunity by passing extremely close to Mars while being observed by several scientific instruments on the red planet. The three orbiters–Odyssey, MRO, and MAVEN–each confirmed they were still in great health Sunday, October 19, 2014, after taking refuge behind the planet to avoid possible damage from comet’s dust. Mars rover Opportunity (the ten-year veteran Mars rover) captured some photos of the passing comet, which passed much closer to Mars than any previous known comet flyby of Earth or Mars, only about one-third the distance between the Earth and the moon.
“It’s excitingly fortunate that this comet came so close to Mars to give us a chance to study it with the instruments we’re using to study Mars,” said Opportunity science team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, who coordinated the camera-pointing. “The views from Mars rovers, in particular, give us a human perspective, because they are about as sensitive to light as our eyes would be.”
Curiosity Photo Albums
After all the excitement watching the comet flyby, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity continued to explore and send photos from the current mission at the base of Mount Sharp. Raw images from the rovers provide plenty of material for the rover teams to examine, looking for evidence to further our understanding of Mars ancient history and the formation of the landmarks we see today. The rocky areas could present further opportunities to drill or offer indications of various stages of planetary development.
Deep Space Orion
In the next step to launch people beyond the moon into deep space, NASA announced this week that the new Orion spacecraft received finishing touches as construction concluded at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Orion is the first spacecraft specifically designed for deep space manned flights, including a planned journey to Mars. NASA will host the pre-flight briefing November 6, 2014, at 8:00 a.m. PST. Viewers can tune in to the live broadcast on NASA TV and the agency’s website.
“This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, and in a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development. “It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.”
The Orion spacecraft rolls out of Launch Complex 37 on November 10, 2014, and heads over to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the scheduled test flight on December 4. The first test flight plans to send Orion 3,600 miles from Earth. The two-orbit flight will help engineers verify that the critical systems are ready for deep space challenges.
More About Orion
- Mars Exploration Program
- Mars MAVEN mission
- Twitter: @MarsRovers, Spirit and Oppy
- Twitter: @MarsCuriosity
- Twitter: @MAVEN2Mars
- Twitter: @NASAJPL
- Facebook: NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter