Monday, October 20, 2014

HiRISE Survives Close Encounter with Comet

Posted By on Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 11:00 AM


It appears that that the UA's HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter survived this weekend's brush with comet Siding Spring and will be sending back some photos soon.

Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog has a roundup of other images of Sliding Spring's approach.

NASA reports:

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has sent home more data about Mars than all other missions combined, is also now providing data about a comet that buzzed The Red Planet today (Oct. 19).

The orbiter continues operating in good health after sheltering behind Mars during the half hour when high-velocity dust particles from comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring had the most chance of reaching the paths of Mars orbiters. It maintained radio communications with Earth throughout the comet's closest approach, at 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), and the peak dust-risk period centered about 100 minutes later.

"The spacecraft performed flawlessly throughout the comet flyby," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Dan Johnston of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "It maneuvered for the planned observations of the comet and emerged unscathed."

Following the critical period of dust flux, the orbiter is communicating at 1.5 megabits per second with NASA's Deep Space Network. It remained on Side A of its two redundant computers, and all subsystems are working as expected.

Downlink of data has begun from today's comet observations by three instruments on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The full downlink may take days. These instruments — the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), the Compact Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), and the Context Camera (CTX) — also observed the comet for days before the flyby and will continue to make observations of it in the next few days. The orbiter's other three instruments are being used to study possible effects of gas and dust in the comet's tail interacting with the atmosphere of Mars. These are the Mars Climate Sounder (MCS), the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) and the Mars Shallow Radar (SHARAD).

Three NASA Mars orbiters, two Mars rovers and other assets on Earth and in space are studying comet Siding Spring. This comet is making its first visit this close to the sun from the outer solar system's Oort Cloud, so the concerted campaign of observations may yield fresh clues to our solar system's earliest days more than 4 billion years ago.

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