Opportunity Rover Spots Comet Siding Spring from the Surface of Mars!

It looks like NASA’s hard-working Opportunity Rover nabbed our very first pictures of a comet seen from another world!  A study of raw images taken by the rover turned up a very promising fuzzy object. Only three night sky pictures were posted today, but two clearly show a fuzzy spot near the center of the field. Stars show as points of light and there are what appear to be a smattering of cosmic ray hits, but in the photo above, the brightest object is slightly elongated (trailed during the exposure?) and cometary in appearance. 

Here’s another photo:

A second picture from Opportunity possibly showing the comet. Click for original. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Looking back over earlier photos of the sky taken on Sol 3212 show only stars and no fuzzy blobs. The pictures were taken around 4:13 a.m. local time with the Sun 25 degrees below the horizon. Opportunity can photograph diffuse objects as dim as the Andromeda Galaxy at magnitude +3.5 and stars down to magnitude +6 or +7. That’s similar to what we see on Earth on very dark night. Since the comet glowed far brighter at around magnitude -5 by some estimates, it would be a relatively easy catch for the rover panoramic camera.

Curiousity Navcam photo of the sky on October 19, 2014, shows the silhouetted rim of Gale Crater and lots of noise. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has also posted images taken by the Curiosity Rover but for the life of me I can’t find any sign of the Comet Siding Spring. Maybe it’ll pop out after the noise is removed. We’ll keep you posted.

Another Curiosity photo of the sky. If you look closely you’ll see stars among the noise. Click for original Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Bob King

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob. My new book, "Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die", a bucket list of essential sky sights, will publish in April. It's currently available for pre-order at Amazon and BN.

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