Washington: The US space agency, NASA is gearing up its extensive fleet of science assets for a close encounter of the comet on October 19.
NASA said Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet- less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.
It said that Siding Spring will be hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second) and will come closest to Mars around 2:27 p.m. EDT.
“This is a cosmic science gift that could potentially keep on giving, and the agency’s diverse science missions will be in full receive mode,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This particular comet has never before entered the inner solar system, so it will provide a fresh source of clues to our solar system's earliest days.”
According to the NASA, Siding Spring originated in the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. It will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by a spacecraft.
NASA's three Mars orbiters- Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the MAVEN spacecraft will observe Siding Spring’s passing to learn more about how comet particles interact with Mars’ atmosphere as well as how to reduce the risk of impact with high-velocity dust particles coming off the comet.
Images and updates will be posted online before and after the comet flyby, said NASA.