March 3rd, 2013 16:08 EST
Will a Comet Crash into Mars in 2014?
The C/2013 A1 comet may pass as close as 37,000 km from the surface of Mars in October 2014, according to data published Wednesday by the New Mexico-based ISON-NM observatory.
Estimates for the size of the comet`s core range from nine to 30 miles across, and astronomers say it will be moving at a speed of 120,000mph upon impact - giving it huge kinetic energy. The comet C/2013 A1 was first spotted on January 3 by the Australian veteran comet hunter Robert McNaught, making it the first comet to be discovered this year.
A possible impact would release up to 20 billion megatons of energy and leave a crater 500 km wide and two km deep, given that the comet is 10 to 50 km wide and moving at a speed of 56 km per second in respect to the planet, according to ISON-NM`s data.
At the moment, C/2013 A1 is over a billion kilometres from the Sun, somewhere past Jupiter, which means it is still very cold. Like asteroids, comets are large chunks of space rock that orbit around our solar system. Unlike asteroids, however, comets are packed with ice. However, as it draws closer it will began to vent more gas, changing its path and surrounding the nucleus with a large fuzzy cloud known as a coma - which can be up to several hundred thousand kilometres across.
What does this mean for Earth? The impact could destroy all our probes in orbit around and on the surface of the planet. Mars is currently host to five functioning spacecraft: three in orbit "the Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; and two on the surface," Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity.
Also the impact would blast tons of rock into space and throw up a dust storm that would fill the planet`s atmosphere for months or even years after.
Right now, the deep impact date is estimated to be on October 19, 2014. That date could possibly change the closer we get to next year.
Photo Caption: "Astronomers have calculated that, according to its present orbit (indicated in blue), C/2012 A1 will make its closest approach to Mars in October 2014".
Tim Martin is a Technology Specialist, Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/tsmartin75 or on Twitter @tsmartin