All three NASA orbiters around Mars confirmed their healthy status after each took shelter behind the Red Planet during a period of risk from dust released by a comet that sped past Mars – closer than any other known comet flyby off a planet.
The Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter were part of a campaign to study a comet named ‘C/2013 A1 Siding Spring’ and the possible effects on the Martian atmosphere from gases and dust released by the comet.
The comet sped within about 139,500 km of Mars, equivalent to about one-third of the distance between the Earth and its moon.
“The telemetry received from Mars Odyssey confirms not only that the spacecraft is in fine health but also that it conducted the planned observations of comet Siding Spring within hours of the comet’s closest approach to Mars,” said Odyssey Mission Manager Chris Potts of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California in the US.
Comet Siding Spring observations were made by the orbiter’s Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS).
Resulting images are expected in coming days after the data is downlinked to Earth and processed.
NASA’s newest orbiter, MAVEN, is also studying the flyby’s effects on the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
The MAVEN spacecraft reported back to Earth after about three hours of precautions against a possible collision with high-velocity comet dust particles.
“We are glad the spacecraft came through. We are excited to complete our observations of how the comet affected Mars,” said MAVEN Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has sent home more data about Mars than all other missions combined, is also providing data about the comet that buzzed The Red Planet.
“The spacecraft performed flawlessly throughout the comet flyby. It manoeuvered for the planned observations of the comet and emerged unscathed,” said Dan Johnston of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.