NASA on Friday said comet Siding Spring, which whizzed past Mars on October 19th, caused an intense meteor shower and added a new layer of ions, or charged particles, to the ionosphere.
The effect of the comet on the Martian atmosphere was detected by two NASA spacecraft, including the #MAVEN mission and a European spacecraft.
The ionosphere is an electrically charged region in the atmosphere that extends about 120 kilometers to several hundred kilometers above the Martian surface.
Using the observations, scientists were able to make a direct connection between the debris from the meteor shower to the subsequent formation of the transient layer of ions – the first time such an event has been observed on any planet, including Earth, said the MAVEN research team.
“They call this comet encounter an once-in-a-lifetime event, but it is more like once-in-8-million years,” said Nick Schneider, scientist with the MAVEN mission and associate professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
“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,” Dr. Schneider added.
The comet traveled from the most distant region of the solar system called the Oort Cloud and made an approach within 139,500 kilometers of the Red Planet.
NASA: Once in 8 Million Years, Mars Gets Hit By Meteor Storm.