The European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft is currently preparing to capture and further observe the 2013 Comet ISON while making its closest flyby to planet Mars on Tuesday, October 1. Space.com reports that Comet ISON will pass by the Red Planet at 6.5 million miles (10.4 million kilometers) so the spacecraft that started the observation campaign on September 21 must have a superior view.
"Over the next two weeks, Mars Express will snap photos and analyze the composition of the Comet ISON's brightening coma, the atmosphere that surrounds the comet's rock-and-ice nucleus," the ESA officials declared in a statement.
Both of the Curiosity and Opportunity will be watching as Comet ISON passes by, but the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is expected to have the most contact. The MRO plans to track the 2013 Comet ISON Mars flyby with the three observing windows set on September 29, October 1 and October 2.
The Mars Express spacecraft has been scheduled to begin looking on Monday, September 23. The Swift spacecraft's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope will make observations on October 1 as well. "For missions like MRO that are designed to look at a planet around which they are orbiting, turning their instruments in the opposite direction and trying to detect a fuzzy iceball is not something that's done on a whim. It has to be meticulously planned, prepared for, and tested," Karl Battams wrote on the Comet ISON Observing Campaign blog.
Russian amateur astronomers Artyom Novichonok and Vitali Nevski discovered the 2013 Comet ISON, or also officially known as C/2012 S1, when they utilized a remotely operated telescope in detecting the comet at the dim constellation of Cancer. Since then, scientists has branded Comet ISON as the "Comet of the Century" if it endures the extreme solar heat and forces during its closest flyby with the Sun.
Astronomers weighed in as well that if Comet ISON survives, it has the capability of shining brightly even at broad daylight for the spectators to see as it travels out of the solar system. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists cautioned that predictions on how bright the Comet ISON shines remain uncertain and there is a possibility that the comet could disappoint depending on its close flyby with the Sun.
As the 2013 Comet ISON approaches and passes by the Sun, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) which is a joint mission between NASA and ESA will look out for the remarkable space display. The European-built Venus Express currently orbiting Venus and Proba-2 in the Earth orbit will watch out as well for Comet ISON in the coming months of November and December.
On November 19, Comet ISON will make its closest flyby to Mercury then passes within 1.2 million kilometers of the Sun's visible surface on November 28. Lastly, the 2013 Comet ISON will flyby 64.2 million kilometers from planet Earth on December 26 if it survives from the closest approach with the Sun.