A new comet, C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) may crash on planet Mars in October 2014. The comet was discovered on 3rd January, 2013 by a prolific comet hunter, Robert H. McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia. When establishing its path, astronomers were surprised to find that it may pass very close to or could collide with the Planet Mars in October 2014.
The C/2013 A1 comet is moving on a hyperbolic orbit in retrograde. According to the calculations based on the comet’s orbit in the past two months, C/2013 A1 will come as near as 110000 km to Planet Mars on 19th October 2014; and with a margin of uncertainty, this move towards Mars does not preclude a collision.
Ian O’Neill from Discovery Space rightly put forward that the comet has been observed, so far, for 74 days and consequently it is difficult for the astronomers to predict with precision the position of the comet in 20 months ahead.
Will Planet Mars have a close brush with disaster?
C/2013 A1 is a large comet whose nucleus is about 50 km in diameter. Accordingly, if this comet is going to strike on Planet Mars, the latter will be left with a huge crater of about 500 km in diameter – a cataclysm that would make us forget the collision between comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter, in 1994 or even the Urals meteor shower. The trail of C/2013 A1 will be refined in the coming months.
Will the crash of C/2013 A1 on Mars be visible from Earth? Yes! The crash will eventually produce a blast so powerful, with energy of impact expected to reach about 20 billion megatons. Such a blast will be easily visible from Earth as a brilliant flash of light in the sky.
And if there’s no impact?
If C/2013 A1 eventually avoids hitting planet Mars, the comet will voyage close to the Martian soil, with a visibility magnitude of about -8 (as seen from Mars). Cameras in the MRO orbit and rovers Opportunity and Curiosity (on Mars right now) may be able to take pictures of this phenomenon (if NASA’s little robots are lucky to survive the impact of course). The comet will be visible from Earth if you have a pair of good binoculars.
While the observers are currently following C/2012 F6 Lemmon and they are also preparing for the passage of the comet Panstarrs in March, pending Ison for the end of the year, we now have this discovery that has stirred the astronomy world.
Throw your bets, Mars is going to be hit or not?