On the night of January 3rd 2013 Rob McNaught, as he had done for thousands of nights before, was methodically searching the Australian sky above the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO). The venerable Uppsala Southern Schmidt Telescope was scanning for undiscovered and potentially deadly pieces of rock and ice debris remaining from the formation of our solar system eons ago.
Rob's business card could realistically have included the description 'Guardian of the Earth'. It was his job to find and predict the paths of comets and asteroids potentially hazardous to all of us here on our little world.
That night he was carefully scanning the small constellation Lepus and he found something that appeared quite 'normal' to Rob. A faint (magnitude 18.5) and very distant object (1.08x109 Km). It was only a feeble smudge a few pixels across in his images, but it was a positive identification of yet another dark body moving towards the inner solar system in an orbital swing around our Sun.
Thus did Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) first come to the world's attention. iTelescope member H.Sato was involved in collecting some very early astrometric data using the T30 iTelescope also based at Siding Spring. His own confirmation data amongst the initial observations made by others suggested that the path of this particular little comet was extraordinary indeed. As C/2103 A1 swept towards the Sun it would pass ridiculously close to the planet Mars during October of 2014. So it justifiably garnered major attention from the astronomical community.
The iTelescopes based at Siding Spring were in an ideal position to play a major role in the study and measurement of the comet over the next year and a half. Our members watched it closely with hundreds of images taken during its long million year journey towards Mars. It was dim and hardly spectacular to begin with, but this little comet was unique and important to planetary scientists the world over. It was from the distant Oort Cloud and this was its first visit to the Sun. A pristine piece of the stuff from which our Solar system including Earth was formed.
So as October 2014 finally arrived many observers from around the world logged into the iTelescope SSO observatory via the internet and began their imaging missions. Some were experienced and others new to the art of astrophotography. The target was low to the west and only a narrow window of opportunity was open to gather as much quality data as possible. The images on this page are only a small sample of the images taken by our membership. Some took hundreds of images over many months as the comet approached.
Here we feature some of the finest images of the Comet's encounter with Mars. It should be pointed out that the huge contrast in brightness between the comet and the planet Mars made this target especially difficult to capture as most certainly the planet would be overexposed during the session. Many of these images were also picked up and distributed by several major TV networks and newspapers, NASA, ESA, National Geographic and Nature magazines. Two of our master imagers had their works selected by the NASA-APOD website. We thank those that contributed their work for this showcase...and thanks for the hard work Rob.