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NASA to Reposition Mars Orbiters as ‘Siding Spring’ Comet Approaches Planet; Rich Zurek Comments

deep_spaceNASA is preparing to position its Mars orbiters on the opposite side of the Red Planet in time before the comet Siding Spring passes by the planet on Oct. 19.

The comet’s nucleus is estimated to fly by nearly 82,000 miles from Mars, NASA said Friday.

NASA maneuvered its Mars reconnaissance orbiter on July 2 to prepare for the comet flyby, with another maneuver set on Aug. 27.

The space agency also plans to navigate its Mars Odyssey orbiter on Aug. 5 away from the comet’s path, as well as the en route Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft on Oct. 9.

“Three expert teams have modeled this comet for NASA and provided forecasts for its flyby of Mars,” said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The hazard is not an impact of the comet nucleus, but the trail of debris coming from it,” added Zurek.

NASA intends to study the comet on the day of its flyby and afterward using various instruments on the Mars orbiters.

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