Comet Siding Spring will be flying by Mars Sunday, making its closest approach at just 87,000 miles away at 2:27 p.m. EDT. Slooh, a robotic telescope service, will provide a comet live stream beginning at 2:15 p.m. The service will attempt to track the celestial object as it makes its way past Mars.
NASA’s fleet of Martian orbiters and rovers are already in position to watch Comet Siding Spring pass by less than one-half the distance between Earth and the moon. It will be traveling at speeds reaching 126,000 mph, NASA said.
Comet Siding Spring is believed to have originated in the Oort cloud, a spherical shell of objects left over from planet formation around 4.6 billion years ago. The comet’s trip around the sun is likely to be its first into the inner solar system, which means it is a “time capsule” from when the solar system was formed.
The close approach will provide astronomers with a bounty of information into planet formation, comet behavior and structure, and the effects of the comet on the Martian atmosphere. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or Maven, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey orbiter -- as well as Curiosity and Opportunity rovers -- all will observe the comet in the vicinity of Mars.
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) October 19, 2014
The European Space Agency’s Mars Express will also observe Comet Siding Spring. “Most interestingly, we may also obtain images of cometary particles – meteors -- burning up in the Martian atmosphere, allowing an in-depth comparison of meteor science between Earth and Mars,” Hakan Svedhem, project scientist for Mars Express, said in a statement.
Slooh has scheduled two broadcasts of the comet’s flyby of Mars. The first Comet Siding Spring live stream will begin at 2:15 p.m. EDT and track the object as it makes its closest approach to the planet. The second comet live stream will start at 8:30 p.m. EDT and focus on initial impressions of the event.
“The uncertainty in how Comet Siding Spring will look, including the length and shape of its tail or tails, and its behavior during this extremely close encounter with Mars, provides plenty of excitement for Slooh members who have been tracking the comet for month,” Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement.
The Comet Siding Spring live stream can be viewed below:
The ESA also has a Comet Siding Spring live stream which can be viewed below.