The meteor which lit up Russian skies and the close fly-by of asteroid 2012 A14 left many wondering what might happen if a large object hit Earth. There is a chance that a newly discovered comet with Mars as our stunt double might provide an answer next year. Based on that preliminary tracking data, Comet 2013-A1 is expected to come very close to Mars in late October 2014.
Astronomer Robert McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia, discovered Comet 2013-A1 early last month. Astronomers in Japan, Spain, Chile, Argentina and Arizona later confirmed the discovery and have been tracking the comet since.
Calculations show it will likely pass about 63,000 miles from the surface of Mars. But with so little tracking data available, the margin of error is equal to about 175 times the diameter of Mars. This puts the comet passing somewhere between a comfortable 650,000 miles from the planet’s surface and a nearly head-on impact.
This margin of error will improve over the coming months as professional and amateur astronomers continue to track its path.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.