Comet ‘Siding Spring’ will make close approach to Mars

BY Justin Scuiletti  March 27, 2014 at 5:46 PM EDT
Image via NASA, ESA and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Image courtesy of NASA, ESA and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Comet C/2013 A1 will be making a trip through Mars’ neighborhood in October.

The comet, dubbed Siding Spring, will be knocking on the Red Planet’s door, in the astronomical sense, as it passes by Mars at a distance of 84,000 miles on Oct. 19 — less than half of the distance between Earth and the moon.

NASA released two images of the comet Thursday. The image on the left was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope on March 11 when Siding Spring was 353 million miles from Earth. The image on the right, through image processing, removed the hazy effect of the comet’s glowing dust cloud, allowing NASA to see what they believe are “two jets of dust coming off the location of the nucleus in opposite directions.”

Astronomers hope to use the processed image to “measure the direction of the nucleus’s pole and axis of rotation,” as well as determine whether dust grains in the comet’s cloud will affect Mars in any way.