NASA recently discovered a close encounter between the flyby of comet C/2013 A1, commonly known as comet Siding Springs and Mars magnetic fields causing an overwhelming reaction to the planet’s week field.
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) is the name given by NASA to the spacecraft launched on Nov 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This spacecraft arrived on Mars on September 21, 2014. To collect data about Mars environment, upper atmosphere, ionosphere and determine the effects caused by the sun and solar wind on planetary layers.
These studies come as a response to the theory that Mars lost its global magnetic fields a billion years ago, this allows the solar wind to break down the planet’s atmosphere and eventually dry out the planet. Here on Earth, the atmosphere surrounds the entire planet, but in Mars the atmosphere only has patches of magnetic fields, creating pockets of atmosphere protected against solar wind leaving other parts of the planet vulnerable.
Comet C/2013 A1 or comet Siding Springs was separated from the planet by 87,000 miles of space. This comet is known for having its own surrounding magnetic fields, an effect of the solar wind interacting with plasma from the comet’s coma. This last part of the comet is a cloud of dust particles that surrounds the comet and is able to stretch 600,000 miles in every direction.
When comet Siding Springs flew close to Mars, the red planet was hit by charged particles from the comet’s coma. Merging two magnetic fields and causing Mars magnetosphere to realign:
“Temporary but profound” announced NASA on the discovery. “These effects built intensity, almost making the planet’s magnetic fields flap like a curtain in the wind; By the time of closest approach Mars magnetic field was in complete chaos,” NASA said.
The encounter by the comet and the planet wasn’t unexpected. NASA shut down some spacecraft equipments to protect them. But MAVEN’S magnetometer remained functional measuring the strength and the direction of the planet’s magnetic field.
NASA was able to measure the disturbances even hours after the comet Siding Springs flew by. It is believed that the effects of the comet were akin to a solar storm allowing gas to escape from the planet’s upper atmosphere.
Source: RD Magazine