Feb 20, 2019 | Updated: 09:36 AM EST

Comet Siding Spring Captured by ISRO’s Mars Orbiter

Nov 13, 2014 06:18 PM EST


In a week when all eyes are set to space, and all questions in the social sphere revolve around the topic of comets, India's Space Agency ISRO doesn't want to be counted out of the mix. And while they may not be putting a lander on a speeding comet, or orbiting one like Europe's space agency (the ESA), ISRO was able to catch its own glimpse of one last month and has taken to the web with a new view of a cosmic passerby.

With its newest venture, the Mangalyaaan orbiter arriving in perfect time late this past summer, ISRO was able to capture a unique view of the rare Comet Siding Spring as it passed by Mars last month on Oct. 19. The streaking light was but a mere fragment of what the red planet saw in the wake of the passing comet, as thousands of meteors lit up the sky in a show unlike anything the planet has seen or will see for another eight million years.

Researchers for India's Space Agency say that the bright light emanating from the comet may also be an interesting feature of Siding Spring, as they believe that light indicates a jet from the nucleus of the comet. Jets of these types are indicative of out-gassing activity coming from vents at the comet's core.

But it wasn't just a light show, researchers at ISRO say. The passing comet also gave Mars orbiters the opportunity to capture vital information about the comet's size, trajectory, and even composition as it flaked dust off into Mars' outer atmosphere. After a preliminary analysis of the mineral traces, researchers found that the meteor was composed of eight trace minerals and metals including magnesium, iron, and sodium which bombarded Mars' atmosphere in what researchers are calling a "meteor storm".

Spiking magnesium deposited in the atmosphere around Mars altered its shape and chemistry, researchers say. And traces of sodium left the planet with an eerie yellow glow after the showers had finished.

It was a strange and rare occurrence, unlike what researchers expected. And while they are excited to have a new venture to focus on in observing the red planet, they are equally thankful that Siding Spring did not pass by here.

"This historic event allowed us to observe the details of this fast moving Oort Cloud comet in a way never before possible, using our existing Mars missions" director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, Jim Green says. "Instead of going to the comet, it came to us."

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