Odyssey orbit maneuver to put spacecraft behind Mars.
Comet Siding Spring Science Workshop: latest observations and plans for Mars spacecraft.
MAVEN Orbit Insertion.
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) goes into orbit around Mars.
MRO orbit maneuver to put spacecraft behind Mars.
10 days to closest approach
MRO CRISM and HIRISE imaging of comet, to check comet trajectory.
MAVEN last course correction to put spacecraft behind Mars.
5 days to closest approach
MAVEN's first science observation; ultraviolet (UV) images of the comet (with the IUVS). Other MAVEN instruments may study the comet to map the comets' coma, study the solar wind interaction, and possibly detect dust.
MRO (MARCI, MCS and SHARAD) studies Mars' atmosphere to identify its nominal state.
All cameras are on (HiRISE, CRISM, CTX) and will take images of the comet to determine the nucleus rotation rate.
MAVEN will also look at the planet for temperature changes and solar-wind/gas interactions within the Mars upper atmosphere.
Curiosity will image comet at night using the ChemCam camera to study the mineral makeup of the comet (note: ChemCam can't face the sun and it's difficult to move the mast camera at night). Opportunity will image the comet with PanCam.
1 hour prior to closest approach
MAVEN goes into planned "minimum risk" mode 1 hour prior to closest approach; fields and particles instruments will be on (SEP, MAG, LPW); all instruments requiring high voltage will be off.
MRO final imaging prior to closest approach; CRISM and HiRISE to image the nucleus and CTX rides-along. Other instruments (MCS, MARCI, SHARAD) take observations of Mars' atmosphere.
Odyssey last orbit before closest approach and thermal imaging by the THEMIS instrument of the coma.
During closest approach
MRO to image comet nucleus with CRISM and HiRISE (images may only be a few pixels). CTX rides-along.
11:28 a.m. PT/2:28 p.m. ET/18:28 UT
Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) closest approach to Mars at ~82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers).
October 19 – closest approach
Opportunity and Curiosity will image the comet during closest approach.
After closest approach
October 19 closest approach + 20 minutes
Mars will skirt the comet coma.
October 19 closest approach + 90 minutes
Odyssey will take several thermal images of the comet and tail
October 19 closest approach + 90 minutes
MRO (CRISM and HiRISE) to image the nucleus and CTX rides-along. Other instruments (MCS, MARCI, SHARAD) take observations of Mars' atmosphere to identify atmospheric interactions with comet particles.
October 19 closest approach + 2 hours
MAVEN will leave "minimum risk" mode. Spacecraft and instrument status will be checked over the next orbit, then science observations of Mars will resume, to get "after the comet" observations.
Opportunity and Curiosity may image the comet after closest approach.
Spacecraft will begin to report back to Earth their health and safety status (this schedule is still uncertain on which spacecraft will call home first).
Odyssey images the comet with planet limb (best possible pretty picture).
MRO will take its last images of comet.
MAVEN completes its post-comet check on spacecraft and instruments.
*Descriptions are current as of 9-18-14 but are subject to change.
Comet Siding Spring Facts
This comet sneaked up on us because it was coming in from underneath the plane of Earth's orbit!
Luckily, asteroid and comet hunter Robert H. McNaught spotted it with the constellation Lepus in the star background.
At the time of its discovery, Comet Siding Spring
was farther from the Sun than Jupiter -
about 7.2 times farther away from the Sun than Earth.
McNaught achieved this triumph on January 3, 2013, using the .05-meter (20-inch) Uppsala Schmidt Telescope, at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia.
Comet Siding Spring's dust tail will completely engulf the entire planet when Mars travels through it. Hubble images show Comet Siding Spring has passed the snow and water lines, the points at which the Sun's warmth activates or releases gases and water ice to form the coma and tail.
Gas and dust in the comet's nucleus and coma often separate into two parts of the comet's tail. A comet's dust tail is the trail of dust and gas illuminated by the Sun. It is blown away from the comet's coma by the solar wind, and follows the curve of the comet's orbit.
When comets are traveling through the outer solar system, they are frozen and do not have tails. Far away and extremely small, they are almost impossible to detect. As they approach the Sun in the inner solar system, radiation from the Sun turns some comet materials like water ice into a gas. As gases leave the nucleus, they carry comet dust with them.
When sunlight illuminates the coma and tail as the comet approaches the Sun, astronomers have a better chance of detecting it.
Though early estimates suggested the size of comet Siding Spring's nucleus could be anywhere from 0.62 to 31 miles (1 to 50 kilometers) across, new data from NASA's Swift Satellite indicates that the icy nucleus of comet Siding Spring is only about 2,300 feet (700 meters) across. Hubble images of Comet Siding Spring show two jets coming from the icy nucleus in opposite directions. Measuring them can help us understand how the comet is rotating and what it might look like when it flies by Mars.
The nucleus is the solid, frozen core of a comet. It is made of rock, dust, water ice, and frozen gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and ammonia).
The nucleus of a comet is usually small in size, usually about a few miles across.
The surface of a comet's nucleus is often dry, dusty, rocky, and dark. Dark materials may contain organic compounds, the chemical building blocks of life. When a comet absorbs heat from the Sun, the nucleus releases water ice and frozen gases.
Sometimes, dazzling jets of gas can erupt from inside the nucleus when the Sun heats some parts of its surface more than others. That can cause the nucleus to spin or even break up into smaller pieces. Such events can change a comet's trajectory and, ultimately, its fate.
Comet Siding Spring has crossed the snow and water lines, key points when it is close enough for the Sun's warmth to activate it. Now that scientists can see the coma, they estimate it is roughly 12,000 miles (19,000 kilometers) across.
A comet's coma is the atmosphere of gas and dust around the nucleus of the comet. It can be hundreds of thousands of kilometers wide.
The coma of a comet is made largely of water and dust. When a comet approaches the Sun, it warms up. Heat from the Sun changes the comet's icy materials to gases. The comet releases these gases, forming the coma.
Radiation from the Sun and the solar wind then push a lot of this material away from the nucleus, forming the comet's tail.
When a comet is about the same distance from the Sun as Mars (about 1.5 AU), its coma can shrink, even though it is producing more gas as it warms. That's because the solar wind becomes forceful enough to push more coma material into the tail, making the tail a lot bigger.
That can be a big deal for planets like Mars, which is crossing through the debris field of Comet Siding Spring's coma and tail.
Scientists will study Comet Siding Spring's ion tail to assess any effect ion-tail particles might have on Mars and Mars missions.
Comets usually have two tails-a dust and an ion tail.
The ion tail is made of ionized gas. (You've heard of solid, liquid, and gas, but there's a fourth state: ionized gas, or plasma. Think of plasma screens, fluorescent and neon lights, and even the Northern Lights). Gas becomes ionized when electrons are charged enough to escape atoms or molecules. That always causes a glow of some kind.
Gas in a comet becomes ionized when ultraviolet radiation from the Sun interacts with the comet's gases. A comet's ion tail is usually blue in color due to the gas molecules that make it up. Ionized gas gets blown away from the coma by the solar wind. A comet's ion tail always points away from the Sun.