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Kicking Off the Siding Spring Campaign!

For a while now we've been doing the ground-work on an observing campaign for comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring). Hopefully you know why this comet is particularly interesting, but on the off-chance that you don't, here are the main bullets:

  • Comet Siding Spring - officially C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) - was discovered in January 2013 by prolific comet-finder Rob McNaught.
  • In October 2014, C/2013 A1 will pass just 86,000 miles (138,000 kilometers) from the planet Mars
  • At time of close approach to Mars, we anticipate that the diffuse and dusty "coma" of C/2013 A1 will have a radius greater than the close approach distance to Mars. In other words, Mars will pass through the comet's coma. That's kind of a big deal.
  • The spacecraft on or near Mars should get a very good look at the comet and return some amazing data.
  • There is a small but non-negligible concern that the spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet might get a little too acquainted with large dust/ice particle in the tail of the comet. (When small rocks hit spacecraft at orbital velocities, there's never a winner...)
  • We have initiated this ISON-esque observing campaign so that we can learn as much about the comet as possible and at the same time make sure it's genuinely not a risk to the Martian spacecraft fleet.

Those are the main points, and you can find more elaboration on them elsewhere on this site. Right now the website is a tad bare-bones, but that's to be expected. The comet is still pretty distant and not a particularly easy target. But, just like with the Comet ISON Observing Campaign, you should find that as the weeks roll on, we'll start adding lots of good info on here. So bookmark the site and check back from time to time.

Our Comet ISON Campaign was, by every reasonable measure, an enormous success thanks to coordinated observations from numerous spacecraft, professional observatories, and a legion of highly-skilled and enthusiastic amateur astronomers. Comet Siding Spring is not quite so favorable for observing. For example, the solar spacecraft fleet (SOHO, SDO, etc) won't get to see it. It's also going to be a trickier object for professional observatories as it doesn't position itself well in the sky. It won't be massively bright either, and could prove tricky to spot when close to the much brighter planet Mars. But despite these challenges, we are confident that we can pool the resources of the international astronomy community - both professional and amateur - and again get some fabulous results!

Of course, I will also be tweeting about it, and blogging here from time-to-time as well. We also have the rather thrilling ESA Rosetta mission reaching its climax this year, so you can expect me to be mentioning that stuff on here and via Twitter too. This should be a fun year for comets!

Keep up-to-date on the latest Siding Spring and sungrazing comet news via my @SungrazerComets Twitter feed. All opinions stated on there, and in these blog posts, are my own, and not necessarily those of NASA or the Naval Research Lab.