US space agency NASA on Friday said comet Siding Spring that sailed by Mars on October 19 generated thousands of shooting stars an hour leading to creation of a new layer of ionized particles in the Martian atmosphere.
The effect of the comet flyby on the Red Planet and its atmosphere was caught by two NASA spacecrafts, including the European spacecraft and the MAVEN mission.
The ionosphere, atmosphere’s electrically charged region, extends about 120 kilometres to hundreds of kilometres above the surface of the Red Planet.
Following the observations, the scientists made a direct link between the debris created after the meteor shower to the formation of the ions layer- the first event ever observed on any planet, including our Earth, according to the MAVEN research team.
“They call this comet encounter an once-in-a-lifetime event, but it is more like once-in-a-million years. The numbers suggest a Martian would have seen many thousands of shooting stars per hour – possibly enough to be called a meteor storm – so it must have been a spectacular event that night on Mars,” said Nick Schneider, a scientist associated with the NASA’s MAVEN mission and also an associate professor at Boulder’s University of Colorado.
According to the scientists, the comet commenced its journey from the solar system’s most distant region known as the Oort Cloud, approaching within 139,500 kilometres of Mars.
Scientists say the distance is less than half the space between the Earth and its moon and also less than one-tenth the distance of Earth’s any known comet flyby.