MUMBAI (TIP): Isro’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) will observe comet Siding Spring when it flies by the Red Planet around midnight on October 19.
The space agency moved MOM to a “safer position” on Tuesday to avoid any damage to its payloads from the comet’s debris.
“The spacecraft will carry out observations of the comet and even capture it on its Mars Colour Camera,” director of Isro’s Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre, Kiran Kumar, said. He estimated that the duration between the comet’s arrival and departure on October 19 will be approximately one-and-a-half hours.
Isro scientists said that MOM’s payload Methane Sensor for Mars will check for presence of Methane on Siding Spring, which is travelling at a velocity of 56km/second relative to the planet.
At its closest approach Siding Spring will come within 1,32,000km of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance between Earth and moon. October 7 manoeuvre which consumed 1.9 kg of fuel will put the spacecraft at an approximate distance of 1,40,000km from the comet when it flies by. Kumar said MOM was now 400km away from the surface of the Red Planet on the opposite side of the comet.
The comet was discovered by Robert H McNaught at the Siding Spring Observatory in Australia on January 3, 2013. The comet’s mass is equivalent to 1,500 Empire State Buildings in New York or 70,000 Eiffel Towers in Paris. On October 9, Nasa’s Maven was placed behind the Red Planet and an hour prior to the arrival of the comet, it will go into what is known as a “planned minimum risk mode”.
MOM and Maven teams are expected to exchange data regarding the comet.