As Comet Siding Spring passed close by Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19), NASA’s newest Mars spacecraft took a time-out from its commissioning to grab some ultraviolet pictures of its coma. What you see above is hydrogen, a whole lot of it, leaving the comet in this picture taken from 5.3 million miles (8.5 million kilometers).
The hydrogen is a product of the water ice on the comet that the Sun is slowly melting and breaking apart into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Because hydrogen scatters ultraviolet light from the Sun, it shows up rather clearly in this picture taken by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft.
Check out more recent pictures of Siding Spring below.
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