Newly Discovered Comet May Hit Mars: Watch for Two Others Near Earth
This year seems to be one for comets. In addition to the two projectiles that will zoom near Earth, a third one has recently been discovered. The newest one, though, won't fly by our planet. Instead, it will pass uncomfortably close to Mars in 2014.
Named C/2013 A1, the comet will fly near the Red Planet on Oct. 19, 2014 according to preliminary orbital prediction models. The icy missile is thought to have first originated from the Oort Cloud, which is a hypothetical region containing billions of cometary nuclei located around our solar system. Comets have struck planets in the past. In fact, it's thought that some of Earth's water was partly created by comets crashing into our planet. Due to the uncertainty in predicting the path of this particular comet, though, NASA scientists are unsure whether the comet will sail harmlessly past the Red Planet or will slam into it.
Yet this comet isn't the only one that's due to sail through our solar system. On Tuesday, the comet PANSTARRS will zoom past Earth, flying about 100 million miles distant in its trajectory toward the sun. Although it will be closest on Tuesday, you may want to wait for stargazing. The comet will gain in brightness as it closes in on the sun over several days. The comet itself should be visible just above the western horizon as early as March 6 through 8, but you'll need a superb view in order to actually see it.
Fortunately, it will be visible higher in the sky later this month, though it will be slightly dimmer. On March 10, it will dip inside the orbit of Mercury and by March 12, it will emerge from the sun's glare and could be visible close to the western horizon shortly after sunset.
If you miss this one, though, don't worry. Comet ISON will arrive this November and is predicted to be both higher in the sky and very bright.