Comet heading towards Mars, possible hit next year - Tucson News Now

Comet heading towards Mars, possible hit next year

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Portions of this story are from NASA. 

NASA scientists discovered a comet that is heading towards Mars with a possible strike of the red planet next year.

"There is a small but non-negligible chance that Comet 2013 A1 will strike Mars next year in October of 2014," says Don Yeomans of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program at JPL.  "Current solutions put the odds of impact at 1 in 2000."

The comet is 1 to 3 KM in diameter and is moving at 125,000 mph! (You can fit 11 football fields, end to end, in 1 KM.)

"It if does hit Mars, it would deliver as much energy as 35 million megatons of TNT," estimates Yeomans.

Basically if the comet hits Mars, there will be one big explosion! 

NASA says "For comparison, the asteroid strike that ended the dinosaurs on Earth 65 million years ago was about three times as powerful, 100 million megatons. Another point of comparison is the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February of 2013, damaging buildings and knocking people down. The Mars comet is packing 80 million times more energy than that relatively puny asteroid."

The impact could change weather on Mars. 

Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA headquarters, says  "An impact would loft a lot of stuff into the Martian atmosphere--dust, sand, water and other debris. The result could be a warmer, wetter Mars than we're accustomed to today."

The resulting changes may also impact NASA missions on the surface of Mars. Solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity may not receive enough sunlight to keep moving. But the newer nuclear-powered Curiosity would be able continue work. 

A hit would be historic, but NASA stresses a near-miss is more likely. But even a near-miss could produce spectacular celestial events. Debris from the comet tail hitting the Mars atmosphere could create a meteor shower or auroras, similar to those scene on Earth.  

NASA scientists are watching the comet closely with new data coming back to Earth each day. Stay tuned for updates.

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