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Mars Science

Comet C/2013 A1 May Hit Mars In 2014 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the big-boom dept.
astroengine writes "According to preliminary orbital prediction models, comet C/2013 A1 will buzz Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. C/2013 A1 was discovered by ace comet-hunter Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, on Jan. 3. When the discovery was made, astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona looked back over their observations to find "prerecovery" images of the comet dating back to Dec. 8, 2012. These observations placed the orbital trajectory of comet C/2013 A1 through Mars orbit on Oct. 19, 2014. Due to uncertainties in the observations — the comet has only been observed for 74 days (so far), so it's difficult for astronomers to forecast the comet's precise location in 20 months time — comet C/2013 A1 may fly past at a very safe distance of 0.008 AU (650,000 miles). But to the other extreme, its orbital pass could put Mars directly in its path."
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Comet C/2013 A1 May Hit Mars In 2014

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  • by jrmcc (703725) on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:37PM (#43008215)
    Keep your head down.
    • by cod3r_ (2031620) on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:51PM (#43008413)
      The one spot it ends up landing happens to be on the multi million dollar mars rover. That would be something.
      • Indeed! It would be proof! Of something. Not sure what, exactly. I'll have to think that one over.
      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday February 25, 2013 @06:12PM (#43009369)

        The one spot it ends up landing happens to be on the multi million dollar mars rover. That would be something.

        Well, I hope it won't, because if it hits, it might make for some really interesting changes in weather for the (surviving) rover to observe:

        With the current estimate of the absolute magnitude of the nucleus M2 = 10.3, which might indicate the diameter of over 50 km, the energy of impact might reach the equivalent of staggering 2×10 megatonnes! This kind of event can leave a crater 500 km across and 2 km deep. (link [spaceobs.org])

        But it's quite sure to say that witnessing such impact is just wishful thinking.

        • If it is something that big and it hits. I wonder if would provide enough energy to melt the polar caps and send water around the planet.
          • by quenda (644621)

            If it is something that big and it hits. I wonder if would provide enough energy to melt the polar caps and send water around the planet.

            Why wonder? It is the age of Wikipedia. The Mars polar caps are 2 x 1.6m cubic km, so latent heat of fusion alone is 10 to-power-of 24 (curse slashdot's inability to show exponential symbols) joules, or 250 million Mt TNT, by the back of my envelope.
            Above-linked article says 2x10 to-tpo 10 Mt, so 80 times the latent heat of fusion of the ice-caps. ... I'm waiting for it to sink in, but I don't think my brain can comprehend those numbers.

        • by eth1 (94901)

          The one spot it ends up landing happens to be on the multi million dollar mars rover. That would be something.

          Well, I hope it won't, because if it hits, it might make for some really interesting changes in weather for the (surviving) rover to observe:

          With the current estimate of the absolute magnitude of the nucleus M2 = 10.3, which might indicate the diameter of over 50 km, the energy of impact might reach the equivalent of staggering 2×10 megatonnes! This kind of event can leave a crater 500 km across and 2 km deep. (link [spaceobs.org])

          But it's quite sure to say that witnessing such impact is just wishful thinking.

          Well, if it does hit Mars, you can bet we'll be sending another rover to check it out. We can call it "Morbid Curiosity."

      • The one spot it ends up landing happens to be on the multi million dollar mars rover. That would be something.

        I just got this mental image of God being complemented on an awesome trick shot :)

    • by RivenAleem (1590553) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @05:43AM (#43012709)

      In soviet Mars, comet kill Curiosity!

    • (In the voice of Sean Connery)

      (camera recording) This is Mars Rover Spirit log, Sol Three Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty bloody Five. And once again I am maintaining this daily log in the event of its recovery by JPL, in the hope that I will be able to pass on the knowledge to them that they are BASTARDS! ALL OF THEM BASTARDS! (sonic boom) What the.. (blinding bright light, wizzing sound, loud explosion off in the distance, a pause, followed by massive shockwave.) SHIT! (The camera POV is of Spirit bei
  • by jcrb (187104) <jcrb@yCURIEahoo.com minus physicist> on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:42PM (#43008289) Homepage

    Said the Earth.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      You must work in the same bureaucracy I do

    • by icebike (68054)

      Said the Earth.

      A near miss of Mars could possibly put Earth at point blank range.

      If it passes close enough to Mars that C/2013 A1's orbit is affected, it could conceivably put it on a collusion course for earth, we would have very little time to react to that.

      It might be safer for all concerned if it did hit Mars.

      • by goodmanj (234846) on Monday February 25, 2013 @06:56PM (#43009775)

        Absolutely impossible. It encounters Mars when it's closest to the sun: a basic principle of orbital mechanics is that applying a force at a given location changes the object's position at the *opposite* side of the orbit. So encountering Mars just makes the furthest part of its orbit (which is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out beyond Pluto) a little closer or farther.

        • by icebike (68054)

          Absolutely impossible. It encounters Mars when it's closest to the sun: a basic principle of orbital mechanics is that applying a force at a given location changes the object's position at the *opposite* side of the orbit. So encountering Mars just makes the furthest part of its orbit (which is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out beyond Pluto) a little closer or farther.

          If you are talking about applying force to an object in orbit around the sun, that seems logical enough.

          Mars is not what C/2013A1 is orbiting, but all of a sudden there is this huge gravity well (Mars) in its path that wasn't there before.

          Is there any possible a close encounter to Mars that might cause C/2013A1 to act as if it were orbiting mars, (at least for half a rev duration of that single pass)? And if so, just how much can Mars deflect the orbit of C/2013A1 from what it might have been for centuries

          • by goodmanj (234846)

            Mars's gravitational pull is the force I was talking about.

            The effect you're describing is a "gravity assist" or "slingshot" maneuver. It certainly would change the comet's orbit, but there's a limit that depends on the mass of the planet and how close you get to it -- and thus on the planet's size. For Mars, this limit is pretty small.

          • by mc6809e (214243)

            Is there any possible a close encounter to Mars that might cause C/2013A1 to act as if it were orbiting mars, (at least for half a rev duration of that single pass)?

            A perfect glancing blow that tore the comet to pieces might leave some little bits in orbit. A few may even find themselves in orbit around the sun as new asteroids. Most of the comet would become vapor.

            Anything else leaves a big crater or deflects the comet a small amount on its way back out of the solar system.

          • by QuantumPion (805098) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:10AM (#43013613)

            Is there any possible a close encounter to Mars that might cause C/2013A1 to act as if it were orbiting mars, (at least for half a rev duration of that single pass)? And if so, just how much can Mars deflect the orbit of C/2013A1 from what it might have been for centuries?

            It is not possible for an object orbiting the sun to become captured by the orbit of a planet, due to conservation of energy. The only way an object can be captured is by either using rockets or aerobraking. However aerobraking alone does not produce a stable orbit since its orbit would continually decay each time it passed through the atmosphere. In order to aerocapture you have to slow down through the atmosphere and then apply thrust at apoapsis to raise the periapsis out of the atmosphere.

          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            Is there any possible a close encounter to Mars that might cause C/2013A1 to act as if it were orbiting mars, (at least for half a rev duration of that single pass)?

            I get goodmanj's description of the orbital mechanics. I've not used the orbital mechanics simulator that he talks about, but I've used others and the effects are counter-intuitive, but as he describes. (And yes, I do get that the whole orbit changes, but that the largest changes are at the far end of the orbit.) One thing that you don't seem

        • by fatphil (181876)
          > So encountering Mars just makes the furthest part of its orbit (which is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out beyond Pluto) a little closer or farther.

          But not any other part of the orbit? So it will continue in the same orbit as before, but then at the very far end witll suddenly take a quick detour to the new perturbed position, and then dart back to its old orbit?

          Because that's what you have written, and it's clearly complete tosh.

          Any perturbation of the motion of the comet as it approaches mars will change *the en
          • *brain asplodes from attempting to work out logic of parent*
            • by fatphil (181876)
              It's simple newtonian physics, that you could teach a ten-year-old. If that gives you brain problems, then your brain already had problems.

              You cannot change a part of an orbit. If you change the orbit, you change the whole orbit to be a different orbit. (See GPP's follow up to me where he admits that, clearly in contradiction to his prior "[it] just makes [the single aspect change]" nonsense.)
              • You do know goodmanj [slashdot.org] only described the apogee without making a single comment about the shape of the orbit? You see, 99.999999% of readers will know what he meant, but you have to show off the fact you know high-school maths to boost your ego to over-inflated levels. Hence the brain asplode.
          • by goodmanj (234846)

            But not any other part of the orbit? So it will continue in the same orbit as before, but then at the very far end witll suddenly take a quick detour to the new perturbed position, and then dart back to its old orbit?

            Because that's what you have written, and it's clearly complete tosh.

            No, that's *your interpretation* of what I've written, and your interpretation is complete tosh. Of course the entire orbit changes, but it changes most on the side of the orbit opposite Mars. The current orbit only barely e

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        a collusion course for earth

        It's all a plot by the people in Black Helicopters to steal our guns, teach us evolution, and interfere with our precious bodily fluids.

        I have a feeling that I've missed a conspiracy. But that'll be the CIA's brain projectors interfering with my memory. Again.

  • I know where we can find water on Mars! We need to calculate that impact point once we get some more observations. We have until 2014 to drive our rovers to that point.
    • How big is this thing and what effects will an impact or an atmospheric skim have on Mars?
      • Above, I've posted a link with a quote [slashdot.org]. Besides the obvious destructive effect, the Martian atmosphere would get an interesting amount of water vapor added to it.
    • by necro81 (917438)
      And I can see now: a whole generation of planetary scientists suddenly dying en masse. First the rapture of witnessing such an event and being given the chance to study its aftermath. But then comes the crushing notion that they've wasted their careers trying to figure out the past and present of Mars: a past that is about to be completely obscured by the cometary effects, and a present that is about to be completely obliterated.
  • Time to get a jump start on terraforming Mars.

    We may want to send Bruce Willis out there to steer this one INTO the planet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:45PM (#43008325)

    Of course, I realize there are "anti-science" people who don't believe in the existence of Martian dinosaurs.

  • by Longjmp (632577) on Monday February 25, 2013 @04:52PM (#43008427)
    The pyromaniac in me really wants to watch the impact ;)

    A little caveat and a more serious note:
    A (very) quick search didn't show anything about the estimated mass of C/2013 A1, so possibly some debris might hit earth later.

    But hey, maybe I want to watch that too!
    • The pyromaniac in me really wants to watch the impact ;)

      You'll be pretty disappointed unless you're also a dust-cloud or crater maniac.

      • by Longjmp (632577)
        Not quite.
        As someone (thanks AC) pointed out the comet is about 50km in diameter.
        Something that size will emit a significant flash of light at impact. Sure, the dust will cover everything after, but not at the moment of impact.
        But even then we would be able to collect enormous amounts of data - and I'd still have my fun ;)
      • by Kittenman (971447) on Monday February 25, 2013 @07:17PM (#43009985)
        Maybe not. I've been watching Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" and one of the episodes (Harmony of the Worlds) covers a cometary hit on the moon in the 12th century, seen by a bunch of English monks in Canterbury.

        Must be out there somewhere and here you go... from Wikipedia...
        [snip]
        Five monks from Canterbury reported to the abbey's chronicler, Gervase, that shortly after sunset on June 18, 1178, (25 June on the proleptic Gregorian calendar) they saw "the upper horn [of the moon] split in two." Furthermore, Gervase writes, "From the midpoint of the division a flaming torch sprang up, spewing out, over a considerable distance, fire, hot coals and sparks. Meanwhile the body of the Moon which was below writhed, as it were in anxiety, and to put it in the words of those who reported it to me and saw it with their own eyes, the Moon throbbed like a wounded snake. Afterwards it resumed its proper state. This phenomenon was repeated a dozen times or more, the flame assuming various twisting shapes at random and then returning to normal. Then, after these transformations, the Moon from horn to horn, that is along its whole length, took on a blackish appearance"
        [/snip]
        • Yeah. I keep a list of dates that I'm going to visit when I get my time machine. Ever since I first watched Contact, that one has been on it. Along with the opening night of Macbeth.

  • To have a rover nearby with a movie cam & mike would be a hell of an opportunity (no pun intended).

    • by bobbied (2522392)
      Not really... Opportunity would not be well served by a huge increase in the dust falling on it, unless there was additional wind storms to keep it clean it would suffer from a reduction in power available. Further, adding a lot of fine dust to the surface would make driving more difficult. Where it would be fun to dream, I doubt Opportunity could survive an impact close enough to directly observe, or close enough to drive to with its remaining life.
  • If it hits, I hope the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are not damaged. Opportunity has been there since 2004, but Curiosity has been there less than a year and still has most of its life before it. On the other hand, I'm sure scientists around the world would learn plenty from the impact and its aftermath, even if the rest of humanity would not be interested for long ("A defense system? Oh, that's too expensive, and it can't happen here anyway").
    • by steelfood (895457)

      I think the Martians might be trying to get rid of our rovers.

    • Re:Curiosity (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Clomer (644284) on Monday February 25, 2013 @05:49PM (#43009107)
      If it hits, Opportunity is hosed no matter what. The comet will kick up such a dust cloud that Opportunity's solar panels will not be able to keep it powered. The comet is big enough that it will have a direct effect on the entire planet.

      Curiosity, on the other hand, would do fine unless it is unlucky enough to be caught within the blast radius. Note that even if they know now exactly where it will hit, if Curiosity is within the dead zone, they wouldn't be able to do anything about it - it can't move anywhere near fast enough to get out of the way when faced with something this big. The best we'd be able to hope for is that it would be able to get some spectacular shots of the final approach and is able to transmit them fast enough before the end.

      That said, assuming it does survive the initial blast (pretty good odds, actually, given just how big a planet really is), having a functional probe on the ground would provide invaluable data about the resulting dust cloud and how it affects the climate.
      • Odds of a probe (or orbiter) that survives the initial impact also surviving trillions of tons of rock raining hellfire down on the entire planet's surface for days afterward: Not good.
  • Unless Mars turns the other cheek, like the moon always does.

    • by PhxBlue (562201)
      Alas, the impact of your bad pun is not lost on me.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Monday February 25, 2013 @05:32PM (#43008879)
      Late-breaking news from the Council: REMAIN CALM.

      Panic and hysteria swept our world today upon the discovery of an inbound cometary body with a non-zero impact probability.

      K'Breel, Speaker for the Council, addressed a terrified world:

      "Podmates and citizens, we believe this object to rate, at most a 1 or a 2 on the Q'nirot scale, and expect further observations to eliminate the possibility of a collision. There is cause for continued observation, but at present there is no cause for alarm."

      "We believe this potential impactor to be a routine and natural phenomenon, not a hostile threat from the Blueworlders. For one thing, is approaching from the direction away from the Blue World, from a region that even their invasion fleets have yet to control. Furthermore, it has recently been demonstrated that the Blueworlders, despite the technological terrors they have sent to our world, remain utterly incapable of deflecting inbound asteroids and comets. Unlike our illustirous Planetary Defense Forces, the blueworlders lack the technology to do anything about an inbound impactor."

      "A solid planetary defense is the right of every being in every technologically-advanced civilization. As the Blueworlders have so recently discovered the hard way, conquest and empire sometimes need to take a back seat to the basic tools that constitute civilization."

      When a junior reporter suggested that EVERYBEING PANIC ANYWAYS, the Speaker concluded his remarks:

      "For decades, junior reporters have been making proposals to this council that begin with 'we have to fight the blueworlders over there before we have to fight them over here', and today marks the day where they can finally put their gelsacs where their mouths are."

      The reporter's gelsacs were then mounted on the impactor unit of the the kinetic kill vehicle that remains the Planetary Defense Force's third and last line of defense.

  • No matter, hit or miss, there will be an enourmous amount of interesting data gathered.

    If it hits, we will learn a lot more about impact craters, that's for sure.

  • by RatBastard (949) on Monday February 25, 2013 @05:12PM (#43008667) Homepage

    I guess he's decided it's time to do something about those damned Martians.

    • by AJWM (19027)

      And we have a winner! Kudos to you, sir.

      (For those who don't get it, go read some Larry Niven or turn in your geek card.)

  • 0.008 AU

    AU is Sun to Earth distance.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astronomical_unit#Usage [wikipedia.org]

  • Will we then be able to confirm water on the surface of mars?
    Also the building blocks for life? http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news115.html [nasa.gov]

  • It's ok. Mars has the illudium Q38 Explosive Space Modulator. They will be fine.
  • I would love to see NASA send the backup Curiosity rover to the impact site if it did happen.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      That's a damn stupid idea. The impact point would be the worst possible place to put any data recording device, because it would be destroyed before it could gather any meaningful information. You need to be far enough away to survive the impact to get the maximum benefit.

      Turn in your nerd card, you just exhibited too little intelligence. Go watch videos of NASCAR crashes instead, it's more up your alley.

      • by asm2750 (1124425)
        I should have been more specific. I mean after the impact event occurred. Besides the next rover won't be ready for launch for a while.

        Also, why don't you think with a little more logic when reading posts instead of going apeshit.
      • by Longjmp (632577)

        That's a damn stupid idea. The impact point would be the worst possible place to put any data recording device [...]

        Yes, of course all the scientists involved would send a backup Curiosity before the impact.

        You need to be far enough away to survive the impact to get the maximum benefit.

        And I'm sure the NASA people weren't able to figure that out before you chimed in ;)

        Turn in your nerd card, you just exhibited too little intelligence. Go watch videos of NASCAR crashes instead, it's more up your alley.

        No further comment :D

      • I think he meant 'after' the impact. As in to 'see what happened.' I think your Snark was a little premature.

    • That isn't a backup rover, it is an engineering rover with identical hardware sans the RTG power source. It is here to be used to figure out problems with the actual rover on mars. Kinda hard to send out a technician to mars to troubleshoot. It isn't a backup in any sense of the word.
  • Comet hit Mars, change its trajectory, Mars hit Earth.
  • No life (presumably) at threat, but instead could be a potential for later life-support, (could not find out much info on the comet, but they are often full of ice and other good potentially life-supporting stuff).

    Of course, the impact would be pretty catastrophic, but very instructive...

  • Don't bet on it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Monday February 25, 2013 @06:42PM (#43009655)

    If the distance uncertainty is 650,000 miles, the odds of this comet hitting Mars are *at best* 1 in 300, possibly up to 1 in 100,000 (depending on the shape of the comet's uncertainty ellipse, which is not mentioned in TFA.)

  • This sounds like a job for Marvin. Finally, a use for all those Illudium 236 Explosive Space Modulators!

  • What did the Martians do to get God mad?
  • What about Mars moons? Too soon to tell if they will get hit first? What kinda telescope should i get? i should at least be able to see the blast from Earth
  • ... if the "90 day" rover can last this long, maybe it'll be able to send back some good video :)

  • I don't know the exact odds of hitting Mars, but let's try a very rough back of the envelope estimate. It's going to pass about 650000 miles from Mars, more or less. Assume that it is equally likely to hit every spot within a cross sectional area that reaches out to 650000 miles. This is wrong, of course, but I'm just doing a back of the envelope calculation to get within an order of magnitude or so, not calculating accurately.

    Mars has a radius of somewhat over 2000 miles. The ratio of the cross section

  • Definitely. But what a show there would be, if this 50-km ( !! ) rock DID hit :-P
  • 4.38 * 10^7 megatonnes TNT-equivalent

    :-D

  • it could pass so close to mars that is deviates toward ... earth
  • At least, if Mars has policemen, he'll want to know about this.

  • If said impact occurs, and if a rover is somehow able to reach it, it would be a huge opportunity! I mean we attached little digging and drilling tools to try and lean about Martian soil and subsurface conditions, and the same goes with the landing site and checking out old disturbances. Heck the Japanese I believe intentionally crashed a spaceship/satillite/insturment whatever into a celestial object just to see what was down there.

    Supposedly this impact will make a hole 2km deep. Looking to see water, or

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