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PHOTOS: Mountain-sized comet whizzes past Mars after a million years

Last updated on: October 20, 2014 11:15 IST

This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars orbiters lining up behind Mars for their "duck and cover" maneuver to shield them from comet dust that may result from the close flyby of comet Siding Springl. Photograph: NASA

It was the closet comet near-miss in centuries!

In a once-in-a-million-years encounter, a comet, the size of a small mountain, flew past Mars on Sunday.

Comet Siding Spring passed just 140,000 km from Mars, less than half the distance between Earth and the moon and 10 times closer than any known comet has passed by Earth, National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.  

The comet is named after the Australian observatory that discovered it last year. Before the comet passed, it could be seen in space racing toward red planet, trailed by a cloud of debris.

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, is seen before and after filtering as captured by Wide Field Camera 3 on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope . Photograph: NASA handout/Reuters

Siding Spring has moved on. It does not pose a threat to Earth and was headed back out to the outer reaches of the solar system, NASA said.

The comet came so close that Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) had to duck and cover on the other side of the planet.

Indian Space Research Organisation had repositioned its Mars Orbiter. “We have repositioned the Mars Orbiter. We have taken the Orbiter to a position farthest from the tail of the Comet so that it doesn’t affect the satellite,” A S Kiran Kumar, Director, Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, had said.

ISRO, NASA and other space agencies in the world, which have sent their missions to the red planet took precautionary measures to save their satellites from any possible collision with the space debris, which might be facilitated by the movement of the Comet near Mars.

According to NASA, Comet Siding Spring has travelled many billions of miles. The comet comes from the Oort Cloud, material left over from the formation of the solar system, it said.