A comet called 2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is set to make a close approach to Mars in October 2014, so close that it may even collide with the Red Planet.
The comet was first discovered by Scottish-Australian astronomer Robert H. McNaught on 3 January, using the 0.5-metre Uppsala Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia.
According to scientists at the Near-Earth Object (NEO) Program Office in California, the comet has been on more than a million-year journey, starting its trip from the solar system's distant Oort Cloud. It is a massive spherical cloud of rocks and ice that is believed to be the home of comets orbiting our sun.
Based on their observations, NEO Program Office has estimated that the comet will pass within 300,000 kilometres (186,000 miles) of Mars, and there is a possibility that it could pass much closer. As of now, Mars lies within the range of possible paths for the comet and there is a possibility of an impact with the red planet.
The probability of an impact is currently less than one in 600, but further observations are required to rule out a Mars impact, NASA said in a statement. When the comet approaches close to Mars, it will likely reach a visual magnitude of zero or brighter. This means that the comet will appear brighter in the Red Planet's sky. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft which was launched in 2005, will be able to capture the images of the 2013 A1 comet.
"On the 19th October 2014, the comet might reach apparent magnitude of -8 to -8.5, as seen from Mars!" Leonid Elenin, a reputable Russian astronomer from Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, told space.com.
"Perhaps it will be possible to acquire high-resolution images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)."
The comet 2013 A1 will be the second one to have a close encounter with Mars within a span of over a year. Another comet called C/2012 S1(Comet ISON) will make its closest approach to the sun later this year. ISON, which is believed to have begun its trip from Oord cloud, is due to pass 10.5 million kilometres (6.5 million miles) on 1 October from Mars on its journey to the sun, the space.com report said.