The view from Mars…

…POSSIBLY!!! :-)

While amateur astronomers around the world are counting off the days until first Comet PANSTARRS and then Comet ISON appear in the sky, some bloggers and astronomy enthusiasts have noted that ISON will have a close encounter with the planet Mars on October 1st, as it heads in towards the Sun, and are wondering if it might be possible for either of the rovers currently exploring the Red Planet to photograph it. Never one to pass up a question like that, I fired up my STARRY NIGHT planetarium software, plonked myself down in Gale Crater, close to Curiosity’s landing site, and had a look…

It turns out that Curiosity (And Opportunity too, tho I haven’t checked that out properly yet) might get great views of ISON, and might actually – if they have the power and time to, and are commanded to by their Terran overlords – have a chance to photograph the comet and Earth close together in the sky!

How bright will ISON appear from Mars? We can’t know that yet, just as we can’t know how bright it will appear from Earth. How long will its tail be? Again, we can’t know that in advance. All we can do is figure out *where* it will be in the martian sky, and hope that Opportunity and/or Curiosity receives orders to take its picture, at least once, as it passes Earth in the martian twilight.

So, as is the case with all the other planetarium-generated images on this blog, the following images should ONLY – repeat, ONLY!!! – be used as rough guides to help you appreciate WHERE ISON might appear be in the martian sky. The tail lengths shown are not to be trusted, because the comet might be a lot more or a lot less active than shown here, with a lot longer or shorter tail, and its dust tail (these images essentially just show the direction of the gas tail, which blows straight away from the Sun) can’t be calculated accurately in advance, because we can’t know in advance how much crud will fly off the nucleus to form that tail! But, having said that, these crude images do provide a fascinating glimpse of what might be possible for the rovers  to see and photograph from Mars. Let’s hope they’re given time, and orders, to do that…! :-)

sunset Oct 1a

Not too long after sunset on October 1st the tail of Comet ISON might be visible peeping up from behind the horizon… as darkness falls the comet will begin to wheel across the northern sky, its tail sweeping like the hand of a clock…

sunset oct1b

sunset oct1c

sunset oct1d

After sunset on October 5th, the comet will be pointing towards a blue star hanging above the western horizon… but that’s no “star”.. that’s…

2 Oct 5

By October 17th ISON and Earth will be much closer together…

3 Oct 17

By October 25th the comet will really be zeroing in on the Sun, and will have dropped beneath Earth in the martian twilight…

after sunset 0ct 25

November 5th, and as comet watchers on Earth start to get giddy with excitement and expectation, from Mars ISON will be dropping away from Earth and will be shining very close to Venus after sunset…

after sunset Nov 5

By Nov 10th the comet will have passed Venus…

after sunset Nov 10

By the 20th, with “Comet Fever” sweeping across Earth, Curiosity and Opportunity will see its tail, like this, after sunset, with a pair of planets above and to its right…

after sunset Nov 20

November 28th, and by now millions of people around the world are looking for ISON in the daytime sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of it shining close to the disc of the Sun. From Mars, the rovers might see its long tail beaming up from the horizon (but AGAIN, this software can’t accurately predict such things, so just take this as a guide to WHERE the rovers would be looking if they try and take photos…)

after sunset Nov 28

By sunset on the next day the comet, as seen from Mars, will have swung around the Sun…

after sunset Nov 29

…and by sunset on the 30th the tail should be clear of the horizon again… comet experts are in agreement that at this time the comet’s dust tail will *really* start to grow, so maybe there’ll be a wonderful view for the rovers to capture after sunset as November ends…

after sunset Nov 30

So, yes, it will be possible for both Curiosity and Opportunity to see the comet from their respective sites, the question is will they be ordered to take photographs of it. I hope so, oh god, I hope so, because this opportunity may never come around again. And the chance to have not one but TWO rovers on Mars, taking pictures of a bright comet shining close to Earth in the sky is too good to pass up, surely? Surely they HAVE to try and take some photos of such an incredible conjunction?

If they do, I wonder if they would look anything like any of these images I’ve made…? NOTE: these images are purely for fun, I am NOT saying “The comet would look like this if they took photos of it”, ok?

ISON from Mars

ISON Mars Nov 27 sunset

IDL TIFF file

I wonder if Opportunity might see anything like this in late Sept/early October, as the comet passes close to Mars..?

oppy end sept

But again, at the risk of sounding like a stuck CD, please bear in mind these are just **IMAGINARY** views, I’m not claiming these are accurate or anything. They’re just for fun. ( Unless they turn out to be even slightly accurate, in which case Ha! I TOLD you it would look like this!!! :-) )

As far as I know there aren’t even any plans for the rovers to try to take images of ISON… but they will have a go, surely? I mean, come on… a bright comet… close to Earth in the sky… seen from the surface of another world..? Why *wouldn’t* you have a dozen kick-ass ameras on Mars and NOT try to photograph that? :-)


16 Responses to “The view from Mars…”

  1. [...] In October and November, if all goes well, ISON might look like this from Mars. [...]

  2. These are amazing. Thanks for putting the work into figuring this out!

    It saddens me to ask this: would you be willing to add “simulated” or something similar to the images themselves?

    I can just imagine seeing these pop up on blogs across the world as “amazing photos from the mars rovers!”, especially once ISON makes its appearance. The only effective defense seems to be plainly marking up the images so the warning can’t be separated from them.

  3. [...] he explained in a blog posted January 13, Atkinson wondered what ISON would look like during its close encounter with Mars, a month or so [...]

  4. The views look suspiciously like Hyakutake + Photoshop to me. Is that what you used for your first-guess image?

  5. [...] sogar schon ein Bild davon machen, wie der helle Komet am Horizont des Roten Planeten womöglich aussehen wird. Und neben Deep Impact, Curiosity und MRO soll auch der Mondorbiter LRO den Schweifstern ins [...]

  6. [...] sogar schon ein Bild davon machen, wie der helle Komet am Horizont des Roten Planeten womöglich aussehen wird. Und neben Deep Impact, Curiosity und MRO soll auch der Mondorbiter LRO den Schweifstern ins [...]

  7. Can you help me out with this one (in relation to the above). I am not sure how accurate this epheremis is but if you put in January 2nd 2014, it looks like Ison is directly with Mars.. what do you think, I’ve never used one of these before just want a second opinion. Thanks

    http://in-the-sky.org/cometephem.php?obj=ck12s010

  8. Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014 – NOWAY – It reach to close encounter to MARS in OCTO – Nove 2013 – And QUOITE far from MARS. Distance of comet requires closer than the 2.5 X Diameter of Mars to divert the comet towards the Mars to collapse…. Which is not possible but you may go to Mars to see ths close view of Comet ISON 2012
    Mars and Comet C/2012 S1 ISON will be within two degrees of each other in the morning sky in September 2013 and within one degree of each other in October 2013.See more
    Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014?
    http://www.space.com
    The newfound comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) has only a slim chance if hitting Mars.

    2013-Oct-01 17:28 00:01 Mars 0.0724878576835433 AU
    2013-Dec-26 22:42 00:01 Earth 0.429220399673719 AU

  9. Incoming path can be verified but out going return path NOT SUre ,

    Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014 – NOWAY – It reach to close encounter to MARS in OCTO – Nove 2013 – And QUOITE far from MARS. Distance of comet requires closer than the 2.5 X Diameter of Mars to divert the comet towards the Mars to collapse…. Which is not possible but you may go to Mars to see ths close view of Comet ISON 2012
    Mars and Comet C/2012 S1 ISON will be within two degrees of each other in the morning sky in September 2013 and within one degree of each other in October 2013.See more
    Could a Comet Hit Mars in 2014?
    http://www.space.com
    The newfound comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) has only a slim chance if hitting Mars.

    2013-Oct-01 17:28 00:01 Mars 0.0724878576835433 AU
    2013-Dec-26 22:42 00:01 Earth 0.429220399673719 AU

  10. Just Amazing, So many people on earth don’t realize how easily it is for us to be snuffed out by a comet, Oh No they say, They would hit it with a nuclear bomb and knock it off course or The government would let us know in advance ( And we would do What! Pack up some camping food, Don’t worry about the BBQ The fryer is on is way.
    Cheers Dinosaur Dave.

    • You’re right, I think most people don’t realise how dangerous a comet impact would be, although, ironically, films like Armageddon and Deep Impact have served to educate people about the damage they could do. One day, absolutely guaranteed, we will detect a comet that’s on a direct collision course with Earth, then we have some very difficult, dark times ahead. But Comet ISON is *not* that comet, and Comet ISON is NOT going to pose any risk to us, and we know that, for a fact, because we have calculated its orbit in great detail and with great accuracy and know that it will fly “up” out of the plane of the solar system and pass **above** Earth, high above it, when it passes Earth on its way back away from the Sun after its perihelion passage. So, no risk, and all the people so gleefully predicting the end of the world … again … are going to look pretty bloody silly when ISON sails past without even wafting the fur on a sleeping kitten’s back. I’m looking forward to their back-pedalling and sudden silence when that happens, until they turn their attention to another comet, or asterpid, which they will do, because that’s how they fill the holes in their lives.

  11. Hi again, I hope you don’t think I thought that ison was our armagetton, It’s just that when you talk to a lot of people about it, They say “ya right get real”
    I guess some of us just live in our own little world.
    Thanks for the reply Dave.

  12. something just seems very fishy. this is suppose to be the comet of the century and nasa shutsdown the day it passes its closest to mars. they even say that Mars Curiosity and Opportunity are going to take pics but dont. smells real bad to me :(

    • That was ages ago! It passed Mars, then Earth, and *thousands* of photos later there’s nothing fishy about it. It’s just a comet.

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