Mountain-sized comet to pass close to Mars

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The heavens are hosting an event this weekend that occurs once in a million years or so.

A comet as hefty as a small mountain will pass mind-bogglingly close to Mars on Sunday, approaching within 87,000 miles at a speed of 126,000 mph.

NASA’s five robotic explorers at Mars — three orbiters and two rovers — are being repurposed to witness a comet named Siding Spring make its first known visit to the inner solar system. So are a European and an Indian spacecraft circling the red planet.

The orbiting craft will attempt to observe the incoming iceball, then hide behind Mars for protection from potentially dangerous dusty debris in the comet tail.

Shielded by the Martian atmosphere, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers may well have the best seats in the house, although a dust storm on Mars could obscure the view.

“We certainly have fingers crossed for the first images of a comet from the surface of another world,” said NASA program scientist Kelly Fast.

Spacecraft farther afield, including the Hubble Space Telescope, already are keeping a sharp lookout, as are ground observatories and research balloons.

“We’re getting ready for a spectacular set of observations,” said Jim Green, head of NASA’s planetary science division.

Named for the Australian observatory used to detect it in January 2013, Siding Spring will approach Mars from beneath and zoom right in front Sunday afternoon, Eastern Time.

On Earth, the best viewing, via binoculars or telescope, will be from the Southern Hemisphere — South Africa and Australia will be in prime position. In the Northern Hemisphere, it will be difficult to see Siding Spring slide by Mars.

The comet — with a nucleus estimated to be at least a half-mile in diameter — hails from the Oort Cloud on the extreme fringe of the solar system. It formed during the first million or two years of the solar system’s birth 4.6 billion years ago and, until now, ventured no closer to the sun than perhaps the orbits of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus or Neptune. It comes around every one or more million years.

It will be the first Oort Cloud comet to be studied up close in detail.

For comparison, the flyby distance of 87,000 miles is about one-third of the way from here to the moon. Siding Spring’s tail could extend from Earth all the way to our moon. Its gaseous coma, the fuzzy head surrounding the nucleus, might stretch halfway to the moon.

No comet has come anywhere near this close to Earth in recorded history.

“We can’t get to an Oort Cloud comet with our current rockets … so this comet is coming to us,” said Carey Lisse, senior astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics laboratory.

By studying Siding Spring’s composition and structure, scientists hope to learn more about how the planets formed, according to Lisse. Scientists also are keen to spot any changes to the comet or Mars due to the close approach. NASA’s newly arrived Maven spacecraft, for instance, will compare the upper atmosphere before and after it passes.

“Think about a comet that started its travel probably at the dawn of man and it’s just coming in close now,” Lisse said. “And the reason we can actually observe it is because we have built satellites and rovers. We’ve now got outposts around Mars.”

Scientists initially worried the spacecraft orbiting Mars would be at considerable risk from the comet’s massive trail of dust.

The nucleus itself poses no danger of impact. But the particles in the tail, hurtling through space at 126,000 mph could fry electronics, puncture fuel lines, or destroy computers, transmitters or other vital spacecraft parts.

As Siding Spring’s path became clearer, the threat level was deemed minimal. Still, space agencies are taking no chances. They’re employing the “duck and cover” strategy.

NASA’s three orbiters — Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and newcomer Maven — will be behind the red planet at the time of peak danger. That’s a 20-minute-or-so period approximately 1½ hours after the closest approach by the comet’s nucleus.

The European Space Agency also shifted the orbit of its Mars Express as did India for its Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, the country’s first interplanetary spacecraft that, like NASA’s Maven, arrived last month.

The precautions are prudent, said University of Maryland senior research scientist Tony Farnham, who led a hazard-analysis team.

“Comets are complex beasts and don’t always live up to our predictions,” Farnham said in an email Wednesday. “If you don’t want surprises, then don’t study comets.”

It will take at least a few days to obtain and analyze the best spacecraft data; but images made from Earth should be forthcoming pretty quickly.

Siding Spring should pass closest to the sun six days after its Mars flyby, then swing back out, bidding goodbye, for at least another million years.

ad-high_impact_4
News
2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Police Officer's Vehicle Was Taken During Shooting
Video from body worn camera footage released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday shows an officer realizing his police vehicle has been taken during the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. It was later recovered at Sunrise hospital with the keys in the ignition and nothing removed. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
See Kitty Hawk’s flying car cruise over Lake Las Vegas
Kitty Hawk takes their flying car for a ride in the company’s hidden test facility in Lake Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
UNLV professor cautions dangers of distracted walking
An alarming number of adults do not cross the street safely according to a study conducted by professor Tim Bungum of the School of Community Health Sciences at the UNLV. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas-Review Journal) @brokejournalist
Car left in remote desert 21 years is recovered for late owner's children
Showboat casino blackjack dealer Mark Blackburn died outside of White Hills, Ariz. 21 years ago. His 1980 Datsun B310 wagon remained in the remote desert until a network of volunteers recovered the car for his children. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resort on Mount Charleston Sold for $4.8 million
North Carolina couple and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman have purchased the Resort on Mount Charleston for $4.8 million. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like