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10.20.2014

Mars Orbiter Image Shows Comet Nucleus is Small

First Resolved Image of a Long-Period Comet's Nucleus
First Resolved Image of a Long-Period Comet's Nucleus
These images were taken of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Oct. 19, 2014, during the comet's close flyby of Mars and the spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured views of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring while that visitor sped past Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19), yielding information about its nucleus.

The images are the highest-resolution views ever acquired of a comet coming from the Oort Cloud at the fringes of the solar system. Other spacecraft have approached and studied comets with shorter orbits. This comet's flyby of Mars provided spacecraft at the Red Planet an opportunity to investigate from close range.

Images of comet Siding Spring from HiRISE are online at:
http://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/images/?ImageID=6682

The highest-resolution of images of the comet's nucleus, taken from a distance of about 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers), have a scale of about 150 yards (138 meters) per pixel. Telescopic observers had modeled the size of the nucleus as about half a mile, or one kilometer wide. However, the best HiRISE images show only two to three pixels across the brightest feature, probably the nucleus, suggesting a size smaller than half that estimate.

For more about HiRISE, visit:
http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu

For more about Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit:
http://mars.nasa.gov/mro/

For more about comet Siding Spring, including other images of the comet, visit:
http://mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring/

2014-366

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov


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