NASA to discuss science findings of Mars comet flyby

Our colleagues at NASA have announced a media briefing at 18:00 today to discuss initial findings from the 19 October comet Siding Spring flyby. Original post below, including links to webcast.

NASA will host a media teleconference at noon EST on Friday, Nov. 7, to provide initial science observations of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring’s close flyby of Mars and the impact on the Martian atmosphere.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and a radar instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft provided the first close-up studies of the comet that originated from the distant outer reaches of our solar system.

Briefing participants include:

- Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington

- Nick Schneider, instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, University of Colorado, Boulder

- Mehdi Benna, instrument scientist for MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt. Maryland

- Don Gurnett, lead investigator on the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument on Mars Express, University of Iowa, Iowa City

- Alan Delamere, co-investigator for MRO’s HiRISE instrument, Delamere Support Services, Boulder, Colorado

For dial-in information, media representatives should e-mail their name, affiliation and telephone number to Dwayne Brown at dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov by 17:00 CET Friday.

Visuals will be posted at the start of the event at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars/telecon

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

The event will also be streamed, with visuals used by the participants at:

http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2

 

Comet Siding Spring imaged by HRSC on board Mars Express

Comet Siding Spring came extraordinarily close to Mars as it whizzed by on 19 October 2014. The celestial body – a mere 500 metres in diameter – passed the Red Planet at a distance of just 137 000 kilometres, where it was observed by several spacecraft in orbit around Mars. The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA's Mars Express, also acquired a series of images with its SRC channel during Mars Express orbit 13710.

This animation combines multiple images that were acquired by the HRSC camera on board Mars Express during the comet Siding Spring flyby on 19 October 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

This animation combines multiple images that were acquired by the HRSC camera on board Mars Express during the comet Siding Spring flyby on 19 October 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

As it flew by, Siding Spring was travelling at a velocity of around 56 kilometres per second relative to Mars. Images were acquired at 17-second intervals; the spatial resolution is 17 kilometres per pixel. The images show the comet nucleus as well as the surrounding dust and gas cloud (coma).

Comet Siding Spring originates from the Oort Cloud, a comet ‘reservoir’ in the outer reaches of the Solar System. The comet was named after the Australian Observatory at which it was originally discovered back in 2013, and has the scientific designation C/2013 A1. As comets approach the Sun, one or two tails composed of gas and dust or ionised gases form on the side facing away from the Sun. As it whizzed by the planet, Siding Spring’s tail penetrated the Martian atmosphere, where it was analysed by the particle detector ASPERA-3 on board Mars Express, among others.

Scientists hope to use the data acquired, as well as the spectrometer measurements conducted at the same time, to gain an insight into the comet’s composition. It is thought that comets may contain material dating back to the formation of the Solar System.

Spacecraft in great shape - our mission continues

Update from Spacecraft Operations Manager Michel Denis at ESOC:

Comet Siding Spring has flown by Mars .

Thanks to the DSN radio-science receiver at Madrid (then Goldstone) we could follow the Mars Express S-Band beacon practically all the time, including closest approach and comet plane crossing. Despite the very low level of concern, this was quite good to have.

After flyby, acquisition of signal occurred as planned at 22:25CEST, which implicitly confirmed that the spacecraft is operating normally. First systematic checks of spacecraft telemetry were performed for all sub-systems and showed fully nominal behaviour. There are no unexpected events or out-of-limits.

The downlink of the science data has started. The observation programme focused on the atmosphere/ionosphere continues for another two days. The HRSC pictures from the encounter are due for downlnk on Thursday.

After a year of intense preparation for technical readiness, our warm thanks to all teams who have supported the flight control team at ESOC, ESAC, ESTEC, NASA/DSN and beyond. We still have a mission.

Kind regards,

- MD

Siding Spring seen by ESA's Telescope in Spain

Image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) at 4.8 arcminutes from Mars, as seen on 2014 October 19 at 20:20 UT via ESA's Optical Ground Station, equipped with a 1-meter telescope, on Tenerife, Canary Islands. North is to the left of the frame. The comet was imaged under poor sky conditions, while it was 17° above the southwestern horizon. High humidity and strong winds also affected the image quality, giving a "fuzzy" appearance to the nearby stars.

Comet C/2013 A1 seen from ESA's Optical Ground Station, Teide Observatory, Tenerife, on 19 Oct 2014 at 20:19:46UT (23:19:46CEST). Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu

Comet C/2013 A1 seen from ESA's Optical Ground Station, Teide Observatory, Tenerife, on 19 Oct 2014 at 20:19:46UT (22:19:46CEST). Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu

For anyone who didn't find the comet in the full frame image above, here's a cropped version with the comet marked!

Mars is, of course, much brighter than Siding Spring - here, it's marked in red. Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu

Mars is, of course, much brighter than Siding Spring - here, it's marked in red. Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu

Why the S-Band beacon is blocked just now...

You'll have read in past blog posts that Mars Express will be (has already started) sending a beacon signal to Earth to enable the mission operations team to monitor the craft. It it continues being received, all is (most likely!) well. If it disappears, this could indicate a problem.

Mars Express orbiting the Red Planet - artist's impression Credit: ESA/Alex Lutkus

Mars Express orbiting the Red Planet - artist's impression Credit: ESA/Alex Lutkus

The beacon was switched ON at 14:48CEST (ground receive time) and is set to run through to the 'all clear' at about 21:30CEST tonight. But there was a loss of signal at 15:27CEST – and this was expected. Spacecraft Operations Engineer Andy Johnstone at ESOC explains why:

The blocked signal is caused by the spacecraft itself!

The Large Gain Antenna (LGA) will be hidden by the spacecraft body or the solar arrays at various periods during the transmission of the beacon today [as the craft moves through various pointings], causing a loss of reception on ground.

We do have a second LGA on top of the spacecraft that could have also been used (between them they are visible from any angle) but we elected not to move the antenna selection switches during the flyby. It is something we only do rarely and decided that, as we are conducting (important!) nominal science during the flyby, we would accept the three blackout periods. It also gives us an opportunity to map the true limits transmit of the LGA – we are always keen to sneak in additional tests and learn more about our spacecraft wherever possible!

Editor's note: Beacon blackouts will run

  • 15:27-16:15 CEST
  • 17:33-18:32 CEST
  • 21:53-23:09 CEST

Seen from the UK, via Oz!

Excellent view by an astronomer in the UK, imaging the comet and Mars via the iTelescope.net virtual telescope at Siding Spring. In the image, both Siding Spring and Mars can be seen this morning at about 11:30CEST. Great work, M. Mobberley!

Mars & comet Siding Spring seen today

An excellent view of Mars and Comet Siding Spring comprising several separate images captured by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA, this morning around 01:00 UTC (03:00CEST). More images and links to live feeds via the CIOC Siding Spring Facebook group.

Mars and Siding Spring seen on the day of their closest approach by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA. Image & live feeds via https://www.facebook.com/groups/cioc.sidingspring/

Mars and Siding Spring seen on the day of their closest approach, 19 October 2014, by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA. Image & live feeds via https://www.facebook.com/groups/cioc.sidingspring/

#MarsComet and Mars seen 1 day prior to cosmic graze by

An excellent image showing both #MarsComet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and the Red Planet in the same view, as they are now close enough together as seen from Earth. The beauty of this image belies the technical challenge of imaging both a faint comet and the (relatively) bright planet. Well done, James!

Comet Siding Spring and Mars seen one day prior to the comet's closest approach on 19 Oct 2014 at 18:27UTC. Image acquired from iTelescope Siding Spring, Australia. Credit: James Willinghan

Comet Siding Spring and Mars seen one day prior to the comet's closest approach on 19 Oct 2014 at 18:27UTC. Image acquired from iTelescope Siding Spring, Australia. Credit: James Willinghan

 

 

Relative sizes of three things in our universe

A fabulous artist's impression showing, approximately, the relative sizes of The City of Angels, 67P/C-G and Siding Spring! Well done and very inspiring... Image credit: Credit: ESA, anosmicovni