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Published:November 11th, 2014 15:56 EST
Comet Flyby of Mars Has Huge Impact on the Martian Atmosphere

Comet Flyby of Mars Has Huge Impact on the Martian Atmosphere

By Ron G Anselm

"The Mysterious Red Planet we all know as Mars of Course has taken on a reputation over the last decade as a sleeping planet. We really have not heard much about what Mars has been up to until recently when a small comet with a tail longer than a meaningless conversation about nothing flew by and once again woke up the sleeping giant " (Anselm, R.)

NASA has once again brought Mars into the spot light with one of NASA`s recent observations from data collected from two of its missions known as Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and NASA`s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) missions on a comet flyby. The data collected gave scientists more information and insight on the properties of the comets nucleus and how this directly affected the Martian atmosphere; Kind of interesting.

The data revealed that when the comet flew by and close to the atmosphere of Mars it left debris that added a temporary and strong layer of ions to Mar`s ionosphere which is the electrically charged layer that sits high above Mars.

In the data collected and the information on the effects of this, scientists were able to hit a milestone by being able to make a direct connection from the input of the debris on Mars from a specific meteor shower to the formation of this specific type of transient layer. This was the first time this has happened on any planet including Earth.

The flyby comet known as comet C/2013 Siding Spring traveled from the deep depths of distant regions in our solar system to Mars and made its flyby the red planet at 2:27 pm EDT coming within about 87,000 miles. This short distance is less than half the distance of the moon form the Earth and one-tenth the distance that any comet as ever flown by our planet, so it was really a close pass by of the distance the comet flew within Mars.

The flyby dust that was emitted from the comet sent the red planet into sort of a hormonal rage by producing a meteor shower that was extremely impressive to scientists. The debris also resulted in significant changes to Mars upper atmosphere and had possible longer-term perturbations.

Jim Green Director of NASA`s Planetary Science Division commented on this by saying, This historic event allowed us to observe the details of the fast-moving Oort cloud comet in a way never before possible using our existing Mars missions. Observing the effects on Mars of the comets dust slamming into the upper atmosphere makes me very happy that we decided to put our spacecraft on the other side of Mars at the peak of the dust tail passage and out of harm`s way. "(Green J.)

NASA scientists were also able to collect some of the dust left by the comet which will give them the ability to determine the composition of the dust and more scientific study of the make-up of this mysterious material.

So, what does this mean for NASA and the study of Mars? Probably more unique information and detailed scientific data that will give us the insight we wonder about of the red planet that has been more mysterious to us than what may lie ahead of us in our future on the path of life.

 

                                                                         Reference

Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere, (hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov) Retrieved 2014.

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