November 22, 2017

September 2013-Life in the Astro-Blogosphere: Touching Mars

A fragment of the Zagami meteorite!

It’s a long journey, from the shores of the Florida Space Coast to the surface of Mars. This past week, we made the journey from Astroguyz HQ in Florida to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASC) to attend the New Media Workshop in Boulder, Colorado for the upcoming launch of MAVEN, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission. [Read more...]

Astro-Event: Mars at Opposition.

Contrary to the once-every-August viral emails soon to be clogging your inbox, Mars will not appear as “large as a Full Moon” on this or any other year… but Mars will reach opposition this week on Friday, January 29th. Unfortunately, this apparition isn’t a particularly favorable one; Mars will only reach 14.1” arc seconds in apparent diameter, a far cry from the excellent 2003 opposition where it reached 25.1”, very close to the possible max. This is due to the fact that while Earth reached perihelion earlier this month, Mars is also very close to aphelion in its relatively eccentric orbit. In fact, although Mars approaches us every two years or so, the next really good opposition won’t be until 2018 (24.3”).  Still, any opposition of the Red Planet is worth viewing, as it is rare that Mars reveals any detail at all! Mars is currently in the constellation Cancer, and rises low in the east after sunset. Shining at magnitude -1.2, Mars is unmistakable for its orange-to red glow. Do things look a bit yellowish? A planet wide dust storm could be underway, as it is entering spring on the northern hemisphere of Mars.

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14.10.09: The Earth-Moon System as viewed by HiRISE.

The image above floated through our tweet-o-sphere yesterday, thus prompting today’s news post. HiRISE, NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter(MRO) is the spacecraft that you’re probably not following, but should be. In orbit about the Red Planet since early 2006, its been transmitting some pretty mind blowing images, all definitely worth a daily peek! Housing a 0.5 meter reflecting telescope which would be the envy of any backyard astronomer, its the first true “spy satellite” quality orbiter that we’ve fielded about Mars. Able to resolve targets about 0.3 meters across, some of the highlights have included stunning views of the polar caps and dunes, snapshots of the Opportunity and Spirit landing sites, and even catching the Phoenix Lander in descent! In fact, eagle-eyed desktop amateurs may even prove successful it divining the fate of the many (more than half!) errant Mars-bound landers over the years. But as is often the case with space exploration, we travel millions of miles to find…ourselves. Some of the most memorable images are actually those of the Earth, whether its “Earth-rise” aboard Apollo 8 or the “Pale Blue Dot” as viewed from Voyager 1, images such as these and the HiRISE pic above of our tiny home remind us how special our place is. Snapped back in 2007, it shows us that the Earth is not only a pretty, but dynamic place were things are happening. Mars is tiny and cratered, and through a backyard telescope, generally yields little detail. Venus, although dazzling, is perpetually shrouded in sulfurous cloud. Not so with the Earth. Cloud cover changes, the surface shows a variation in sea, land, and seasonal growth, and at night, an experienced telescopic eye might just pick out the lights of cities, evidence of human activity. Views like this always remind me of Arthur C. Clarke’s little known but classic short story Report on Planet Three, where Martian scientists argue that life couldn’t exist on Earth! Clarke wryly points out that life elsewhere may not be remotely Earth-like. I personally can’t wait to spread my telescope tripod legs out under a night under Martian skies; and without a doubt, the slender crescent Earth-Moon duo will be my first astronomical target!