Can comet flybys damage Mars spacecraft?
Washington: Two comets that will pass Mars next year have prompted excitement as well as some concern that some cometary particles could hit the Mars spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet and exploring its surface.
Currently, three operational spacecraft are orbiting Mars: NASA`s Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), as well as Europe`s Mars Express.
NASA also has placed two functioning rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, on Mars` surface.
Richard Zurek, MRO project scientist and chief scientist in the Mars Program Office at NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said that the MRO spacecraft is on the lookout for Comet ISON.
MRO is going to look at ISON, with observations scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 (when the comet is going t be at its closest to Mars.
At that time, ISON is going to be roughly 14 times closer and would likely be relatively easy to detect.
Zurek said however, that at at the closest passage distance, there is no concern that cometary particles from ISON will affect the orbiters or Mars.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA`s Mars Exploration Program at the agency`s headquarters in Washington, D.C, said that after ISON, scientists will look for Comet Siding Spring.
According to the best estimates, the comet is going to make a close approach to Mars in October 2014, passing just 76,428 miles from Mars.
Meyer said that the comet does pose risks to spacecrafts that are orbiting Mars.
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