There is a chance that the comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), discovered in the beginning of 2013, might collide with Mars. At the moment, based on the observation arc of 74 days, the nominal close approach distance between the red planet and the comet might be as little as 0.00073 AU, that is approximately 109,200 km! Distance to Mars’ natural satellite Deimos will be smaller by 6000 km, making it 103,000 km. On the 19th October 2014, the comet might reach apparent magnitude of -8…-8.5, as seen from Mars! Perhaps it will be possible to accuire high-resolution images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
Since C/2013 A1 is a hyperbolic comet and moves in a retrograde orbit, its velocity with respect to the planet will be very high, approximately 56 km/s. With the current estimate of the absolute magnitude of the nucleus M2 = 10.3, which might indicate the diameter from 10 to 50 km, the energy of impact might reach the equivalent of staggering 2×10¹º megatonnes! This kind of event can leave a crater 500 km across and 2 km deep. Such an event would overshadow even the famous bombardment of Jupiter by the disintegrated comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 in July 1994, which by some estimates was originally 15 km in diameter.
All that is said above is based on the current measurements, and will of course be refined as more data comes in. In any case, even now we can say that the close approach will happen. The current orbit uncertainty allows for a collision scenario, but the possibility of this is small. Astronomers keep watching this interesting comet, and I will keep you up to date with the news.
Nominal orbital elements were taken from JPL NASA website, calculations were done in Mercury package.
Translated by Maksim Kakitsev.