Discovered by Robert McNaught from Siding Spring Observatory last year, Comet C/2013 A1, otherwise known as “Comet Siding Spring,” will make an unprecedented close approach to Mars on October 19th, 2014. Slooh, using advance imaging techniques, will attempt to track Comet Siding Spring on close-approach to Mars live from Earth with multiple shows.
The first show, billed “Close Call – Comet Siding Spring Zips by Mars,” will start at 11:15 AM PDT / 2:15 PM EDT / 18:15 UTC – International times here: goo.gl/qX7JVf where Slooh will track Comet Siding Spring on close-approach live from South Africa and later from the Canary Islands. The second show, billed “Comet Siding Spring – the Outcome” will start at 5:30 PM PDT / 8:30 PM EDT / 00:30 UTC (10/20) – International times here: goo.gl/DkAW0I – where Slooh will continue to track the comet live from Slooh’s southern observatory located at the Catholic University (PUC) – both shows are available free on Slooh.com with expert commentary by esteemed astrobiologist David Grinspoon and Slooh host Geoff Fox. The latter show will feature a special discussion with Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, who will be on location in Chile. Viewers can watch live on their PC or mobile device and ask questions during each show by using hashtag #SloohComet.
On October 19th, Comet Siding Spring will be skimming past Mars at only 139,500 km (87,000 miles) away – which is sixteen times closer to Mars than any known comet has ever come to Earth. It may display across much of the martian sky, and even send fragments of itself crashing onto the Red Planet’s surface.
“Our focus is science, not mythology,” says Slooh astronomer Bob Berman, “but it is hard to ignore the world’s historical legends when a comet — traditionally perceived as a sinister omen — skims past the planet named for war, whose two moons are the Greek words for ‘fear’ and ‘death.’”
Scientists at JPL in charge of various martian-orbiting spacecraft will be trying to track the comet close-up, by having their instruments “crane their necks” and point not downward to the martian surface as designed, but up into the sky. Meanwhile on Earth, the Slooh telescopes will be tracking Mars and the comet, whose appearance is expected to vary from day to day.
“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 months. But the general public will also have the opportunity to get a first look of Comet Siding Springs live from Slooh as it nears Mars,” says Berman.