It may kick up enough red dust to set back planned missions to Mars by several years.
On the Space.com website, Mike Wall reports that a newfound comet will give Mars a close shave next year, and there’s a slim chance that it could actually hit the Red Planet.
According to NASA, Comet 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) will come within about 31,000 miles of Mars in October 2014–However, the trajectory of the comet is still not known well enough to rule out a dramatic comet collision with Mars, though that could change.
On Space.com, Joe Rao reports that because the comet is currently very far out in space and has been under scrutiny for less than three months, the circumstances of its orbit will likely need to be refined in the coming weeks and months. As such, the comet’s approach to Mars might ultimately end up being farther or closer than what current predictions suggest.
And if it DOES happen, the collision could be seen from Earth! In the Economist, "Babbage" writes: "For a start, it should be simply spectacular. Given the unusual speed of the comet (which is moving so fast that it may well be coming from outside the solar system), [it is estimated] that its impact should yield a blast equivalent to that of a billion megatons of TNT. It would be an event on the same sort of scale as the impact that drove the dinosaurs extinct 65 million years ago. If it really is that big, and if the comet were to hit the side of Mars facing Earth (it seems that it might do, but it might also hit the far side), then the blast could well be visible to the naked eye, even in daylight."
It could also answer the enduring mystery of whether or not there was ever life on Mars (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this dynamic show). Babbage writes: "There is a lot of ice frozen into the Martian crust. The heat of an enormous impact would melt a huge amount of it. If, as some believe, there are microbes living deep under the Martian surface, such a burst of warm, wet conditions over a substantial chunk of the planet would give them a brief chance to thrive at and close to the surface before the planet refroze."
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