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How to see Mars from Earth, as Comet Siding Spring sweeps past

To see Mars from Earth on October 19, 2014, look westward after sunset.  Mars is faint and far across the solar system now.  You'll need a telescope to see the comet near Mars.

Tonight is Oct 20, 2014

Moon Phase Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory

Astronomers have been waiting eagerly for the big day – October 19, 2014 – as Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) nearly misses the planet Mars in its maiden journey through the inner solar system. The featured sky chart at the top of this post shows the red planet Mars and Comet Siding Spring snuggling up together in the western sky on the evening of October 19. Look for Mars not long after the sun goes down. It’s reddish in color, natch. The reddish star Antares will be nearby. The comet itself probably won’t be bright enough to observe through ordinary binoculars, so we simply show Comet Siding Spring’s location in the sky with an arrow. If you have a telescope, by all means try your luck. For the latest prognosis, check out heavens-above, comet chasing or the sky live.

Read more: Comet Siding Spring’s close encounter with Mars

Of course, the best place to observe the comet would be Mars. Let’s hope the HIRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) Camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter manages to get some high-resolution images of Comet Siding Spring, our visitor from the extreme outskirts of the solar system.

If only we could transport ourselves there! The animation above looks more awesome if you view it in full scale at the website of its creators, solarsystemscope.com. It shows Comet Siding Spring moving among the stars (yes, Mars sees the same patterns of stars we do from Earth). It’s the comet as seen from the location of Curiosity rover on Mars, now at the base of Mount Sharp in Mars’ Gale Crater, during Comet Siding Spring’s close flyby on October 19. Michal Sadlon of solarsystemscope told EarthSky:

Length of the tail was calculated according available data: tail should be 12,000 miles long, distance of the comet from Mars is 82,000 miles = 8 degrees angular size.

Robert McNaught first spotted Comet Siding Spring on January 3, 2013, in front of the constellation Lepus, at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. Traveling at a snail’s pace when the comet first left the Oort Cloud millions of years ago, the comet continued to accelerate as it got closer to the sun.

As it makes its closest encounter with Mars on October 19, Comet Siding Spring and its trail of dust will be flying at about 125,000 miles (200,00 kilometers) per hour.

The comet will reach perihelion – its closest point to the sun – on October 25, 2014.

Another chart showing Mars in the west after sunset, on the day Comet Siding Springs sweeps past it.  Chart via StarDate Online

Another chart showing Mars in the west after sunset, on the day Comet Siding Springs sweeps past it. Chart via StarDate Online

Bottom line: Astronomers have been waiting with bated breath for the big day – October 19, 2014 – as Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) nearly misses the planet Mars in its maiden journey through the inner solar system. How to see Mars – and some tip to telescopic observations the comet – on this special day. Also, how the comet might look from Mars!

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