SCIENCE
10/13/2014 12:32 pm ET Updated Oct 13, 2014

NASA Braces For Comet's Close Encounter With Mars

A comet will give Mars a close shave on Sunday, Oct. 19, and NASA isn't taking any chances.

Comet C/2013 A1, or 'Siding Spring,' is expected to come within 87,000 miles of the red planet, making its closet approach around 2:27 p.m. EDT. To keep debris from the comet's long trail from hitting the three NASA spacecraft now in orbit around Mars, the space agency has adjusted their positions so that they'll be on the planet's far side when the comet approaches.

"We're going to hide behind Mars," Rob Lock, the orbiter studies lead for the Mars program office, says in the video above. "So, kind of like diving under your desk--there's an earthquake and flying glass around--it's exactly the same sort of thing. We're not going to take any chances."

The Sliding Spring flyby will also give NASA its first-ever close-up look at a comet from the Oort Cloud, a spherical "cloud" of icy objects in the solar system's outer reaches.

The space agency hopes that by studying the comet's trajectory, scientists will gain a better understanding of comets that whiz close to Earth.

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