This weekend an insanely exciting space event will take place, and if you have the proper technology on hand, you might even be able to see it happen. According to NASA a gigantic comet is going to pass Mars within 87,000 miles. The speed of the comet will be right around 126,000 mph.
The comet is named Siding Spring and NASA has the five robotic explorers, three orbiters, and two rovers aimed to document the once-in-several-lifetimes event. One of the crafts, the one that is orbiting Mars, is going to use the planet as cover as the comet passes. While the comet is incoming, it will watch the large mountain-sized chunk of ice come toward the planet, and then hide to protect itself from the dangerous tail dust of Siding Spring.
While there is speculation that a dust storm on the red planet itself, could obscure the view from the rovers, it’s widely expected that they will have the best seat to the entire experience. This is data and a show that could stand for hundreds, and hundreds, of thousands of years. Statistically speaking, this is something that really does happen only once every million years.
Saturday the comet will start from the under-side of the planet and then pass directly in front of it until its front-facing Sunday night. If you’re trying to see the event though here on Earth, that may be more difficult than originally estimated.
Unfortunately, unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, viewing will be challenging. However, those who live in the southern hemisphere will have plenty of opportunity to see the comet buzz by the red planet. If you want to see the comet, you’ll definitely need binoculars.
However, just how rare this event is, is perhaps the most unique factor heading into the weekend. This comet will formed during the first million or two years that the solar system existed. And in the solar systems 4.6 billion year history, this particular comet has never come any closer than the sun’s distance away from anything in our region of the solar system. To give some comparison, the distance between Mars and this comet is just a third of what is between the Earth and Moon.