Comet C/2013 A1 or Siding Spring, as it is more commonly known, which flew past the Red Planet Mars last month and dumped tons of primordial dust and ice particles on to the planet’s atmosphere, creating several thousand shooting starts in the process. NASA recently collected data from two of its space crafts, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), later gave a lot of important information about the structure of the comet and the effect it probably had on the Red Planet.
Combining the data given by both these satellites, scientists have been able to know that the close brush between the two heavenly bodies contributed to a significant increase in the layer of ions on the upper stratosphere. This is the first time that that the scientists have seen this phenomenon of atmospheric ionization caused by a comet passing very close to a planet’s surface. Some of the ions noticed during this process were iron, sodium and magnesium.
Not only that, as the huge amounts of dust and debris produced burned up on entering the Mars’ atmosphere, they produced a shower of meteors which had a huge impact on the atmosphere of our closest neighboring planet.
As the comet’s dust bombarded the atmosphere, it also created a dense ionospheric layer and it ultimately changed the chemistry of the upper atmosphere, said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. Green noted that NASA was taken by surprise by the amount of meteor dust ejected by Siding Spring.
NASA had to move its spacecraft MAVEN away from its path to avoid any potential damage caused by the meteor shower. Green is happy about their decision to move MAVEN to the other side of Mars. The decision of keeping it away from the peak of the meteor tail helped avoid any possible damage and losses.
“During the comet’s flyby, MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph detected the comet’s huge effect on the planet as there was an ultraviolet increase caused by magnesium and iron ions. This UV spike peaked for two hours after the comet passed, and faded away after two days,” told the scientists.
Nick Schneider, the main instrument scientist of one of the NASA’s satellite stated that it was indeed an amazing sight for the human eye.
The comet originated in the Oort Cloud, a vast realm of icy relics the was left over from the birth of the solar system, about 4.6 billion years ago. The Oort Cloud extends from beyond the orbit of Pluto, halfway to the nearest star, told the NASA scientists. However, it was the comet’s first foray into the inside of our solar system. Since witnessing meteor showers with more than a thousand of them shooting every hour are a very very rare phenomenon on Earth, it must have been an extraordinary sight on the Red planet’s surface.