Rovers, orbiters add to Red Planet data
Mars is getting crowded. The Red Planet now has seven robots studying it, following the arrival of two new orbiters in September: NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) and MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission), the Indian space agency’s first Mars spacecraft.
Both showed up just in time for a rare spectacle. On October 19, comet Siding Spring whizzed past Mars at a distance of just under 140,000 kilometers, a near miss in planetary terms. As a precaution against the high-speed dust particles flying off the comet, MAVEN and two other NASA orbiters temporarily hunkered down on the far side of the planet. They survived unscathed, and one sent back pictures of the comet’s nucleus, the first ever seen in a pristine comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system