On October 19th, 2014, at about 6 o’clock in the afternoon, Greenwich Mean Time, a comet by the name of Siding Spring came within about 140,000 kilometers of Mars. NASA scientists called it a “close shave” and had the three spacecraft currently orbiting our much mythologized neighbor hanging out on the side of the planet away from the comet.
This leaves me with 3 questions. First, how do they name comets and what’s the back story behind this one? Because Siding Spring sounds kind of cool, it’s as if comets get named by Hippie parents, which might well be more or less the case. I’m sure most NASA scientists were nerds in high school and college, and spent at least a bit of time out in the parking lot smoking doobs before astronomy class.
Second, and this isn’t so much a question as it is a statement, if they can predict the path of a comet with that much exactitude, and remote control spaceships that are orbiting around a planet that is not our own but so far away that the Earth is only a dot in the sky from there, then driverless cars are just around the corner, we probably have the technology already, and traffic deaths will drop to about zero. We should get on that ASAP and the only reason we don’t, I’m sure, is because people are total dicks about their cars.
Third, and this is something I’ve thought about a fair bit but if any of you reading know more about the science than I do (which would not be a tremendous stretch) feel free to enlighten me. If a comet, made mostly of water, were to strike Mars head on, a big old dinosaur killer right smack in the old Mons Olympus, wouldn’t it be kind of an amazing thing? I mean, it wouldn’t be a catastrophe at all because nobody lives there, at least not yet and, it seems to me (and this is the part where I admit I don’t know the science) Mars would get a lot of water, a bit extra mass and, with a bit of luck, an atmosphere.
It could even render the place habitable. Granted, of course, it didn’t just shatter it like a pumpkin.