# Comet at Mars L1

If we placed and maintained a comet at Mars L1 point would we get a coma and tail that would add volatiles to the Martian atmosphere? I've also read comets create a bow shock with the solar wind, slowing it down, so would the comet's coma and tail at L1 provide Mars's atmosphere some protection from the solar wind?

The coma can grow to the size of Jupiter or even bigger than the sun. The hydrogen gas halo can be as large as 1 AU in radius! But by the time a comet gets to within 1.5 AU of the sun, ie the orbit of Mars, the size decreases and the tail increases as the solar wind gets strong enough to blow the gas and dust away from the coma.

The particles given off by the comet slow down and deflect the solar wind. So would this be enough to protect Mars from the solar wind? spacephysics.ucr.edu/index.php?content=solar_wind/sw/swq5.html

TL;DR: It wouldn't work, because you wouldn't be able to keep the comet at L1.

The collinear Lagrangian points (L1, L2, and L3) are unstable; if a body were to be placed at one of these points, any perturbation - no matter how small - will move the body away from the point, at which point gravitational and/or centrifugal forces will move the body further and further away from the point. Think of a ball balanced on the tip of a hill. Anything placed at one of the collinear Lagrangian points, or in an orbit around one of said points, will require constant stationkeeping to keep it in place.

Unless you have a large enough rocket to counteract the inevitable perturbations from things such as the solar wind the comet is meant to protect against as one of its functions, plus enough propellant to keep said rocket fuelled for a long time, it wouldn't matter if a comet at Sun-Mars L1 would block the solar wind, since it wouldn't stay at L1 long enough to make any sort of meaningful difference.

• Good answer! Since Mars' orbit is so elliptical, moving closer and farther from the Sun, the positions of the collinear Lagrangian points in the classical CR3BP (circular, restricted 3-body problem), as such, aren't even well defined to begin with.
– uhoh
Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 0:30
• I'd put the TL;DR at the top ;-)
– uhoh
Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 0:30
• @uhoh: Good idea - moved. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 0:34
• A comet is basically a pile of reaction mass and the Sun is power source, so if you could get the comet there, it wouldn't be hard to keep it on station. It would probably be enough just to use sun-shields to control which bit of the coment boiled off fastest. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 11:25
• @uhoh I am considering, however I can't show it quantitatively now. :-( Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 17:59

Since you already have a comet available near Mars, I would propose landing it it on Mars instead. Soft-landing it is only an optional feature and not a hard requirement.

You will get all the volatiles (and non-volatiles as well) on Mars. Quite possible that you'll create a hydrosphere at the same time. You will make quite a strong dust storm, but Mars is used to them and it will settle after a while.

You can as well build an equatorial power line in order to create a planetary magnetic field in order to keep your hard-earned volatiles from being blown in space.

... and you will save more than 90% of your L1 budget while getting incredibly more of these rare substances on Mars.