Washington: NASA has revealed that the debris of a wayward comet that buzzed by Mars has had temporary effects on the planet's upper atmosphere, but can also lead to possible longer-term changes.
Two NASA and one European spacecraft, including NASA's MAVEN mission led by the University of Colorado Boulder said that debris from Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere, which is an electrically charged region in the atmosphere that reaches from about 75 miles (120 kilometers) to several hundred miles above the Martian surface.
The MAVEN research team said that using the observation, the researchers were able to make a direct connection between the input of debris from the meteor shower to the subsequent formation of the transient layer of ions - the first time such an event has been observed on any planet, including Earth.
Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at the agency's headquarters in Washington, said that observing the effects on Mars of the comet's dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harms way.
The comet traveled from the most distant region of our solar system called the Oort Cloud and made a close approach within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet. That is less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.