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Left:Hubble Space Telescope picture of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring photographed March 11, 2014. At that time the comet was 353 million miles from Earth. Right: When the glow of the coma is subtracted through image processing, Hubble resolves what appear to be two jets of dust coming off the nucleus in opposite directions. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)
Mars and Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will overlap as seen from Earth on Oct. 19, 2014 when the comet might pass as close as 25,700 miles (41,300 km) from the planet’s center. View shows the sky at the end of evening twilight facing southwest. Stellarium
Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring photographed from Australia on March 4, 2014. Credit: Rolando Ligustri
Comet Siding Spring, on its way to a close brush with Mars on October 19, has been kicking up a storm lately. New images from Hubble Space Telescope taken on March 11, when the comet was just this side of Jupiter, reveal multiple jets of gas and dust.
“This is critical information that we need to determine whether, and to what degree, dust grains in the coma of the comet will impact Mars and spacecraft in the vicinity of Mars,” said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.
On October 19 this year, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 84,000 miles (135,000 km) of Mars or less than half the distance of our moon. There’s a distinct possibility that orbiting Mars probes like NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Mars Express might be enveloped by the comet’s coma (hazy atmosphere) and pelted by dust.