Scientists had positioned and moved spacecraft’s to safe distances away from Sliding Spring, the comet that made a close fly by to Mars last month. They took the precautions as an extra measure to possibly combat some unforeseen issues that might arise. As it turned out, those precautions turned into well-taken steps.
The comet, like many, carry dust particles behind it – in its tail. “With the amount of dust that came in, it’s very possible that these are not just micron size, but they can be quite large, perhaps up to a centimeter in size,” according to scientists. Additionally, they went on to point out that “Anything that is of any size could easily destroy a spacecraft given its high velocity and hitting in the right location.”
However, as they went on to point out, that move was not speculation as much as it wound up being good planning. “We were speculating the spacecraft would survive (in the dust tail’s path), but I think it’s pretty obvious they wouldn’t have based on the tremendous response of Mars’ atmosphere to the comet tail.” This was a sentiment that the science community shared after the initial blast of particles was analyzed by scientists.
While the two major spacecraft’s that are studying Mars were at a safe distance, they did collect some data that was important to understanding just how much impact the comet, and the dust tail would have on the planet as a whole – specifically with regards to the atmosphere.
Scientists did say though that the show would have been an impressive one from the surface of Mars. Had spectators been there to see how it would have looked, there would have been thousands of shooting stars, and thousands of lights firing throughout the sky – like nothing we would have previously seen in the close-universe. That said, this is an instance that is something of an astronomical rarity. A comet passing this close to any planet, but specifically Mars, is something that would only happen once every 8 million years.
Scientists also were able to determine through their research that the comet passed on October 19th and did so at a whopping 126,000mph.