Tag Archives: Mars

Mars, Ceres, Vesta

Image Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN)

That bright, ruddy star you’ve recently noticed rising just after sunset isn’t a star at all. That’s Mars, the Red Planet. Mars is now near its 2014 opposition (April 8) and closest approach (April 14), looping through the constellation Virgo opposite the Sun in planet Earth’s sky. Clearly outshining bluish Spica, alpha star of Virgo, Mars is centered in this labeled skyview from early April, that includes two other solar system worlds approaching their opposition. On the left, small and faint asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres are seen near star Tau Virginis. But you’ll just have to imagine NASA’s Dawn spacecraft cruising between the small worlds.Having left Vesta in September of 2012, Dawn’s ion engine has been steadily driving it to match orbits with Ceres, scheduled to arrive there in February 2015. Of course, you can also look near Mars for the Moon opposite the Sun in Earth’s sky on the night of April 14/15 … and see a total lunar eclipse.

NASA APOD 10-Apr-2014

Mars Red and Spica Blue

Image Credit & Copyright: P-M Hedén (Clear Skies, TWAN)
Explanation: A bright pair of sky objects will be visible together during the next few months. Mars will shine brightly in its familiar rusty hue as it reaches its brightest of 2014 next week. The reason that Mars appears so bright is that Earth and Mars are close to each other in their long orbits around the Sun. Spica, on the other hand, shines constantly as one of the brightest blue stars in the night sky. Pronounced “spy-kah”, the blue-hued starhas been visible throughout human history and the sounds that identify it today date back to ancient times. Pictured above, the planet and the star were photographed rising together toward the southeast after sunset last week through old oak trees in Sweden.

NASA APOD 02-Abr-2014

Martian Chiaroscuro

Image Credit: HiRISE, MRO, LPL (U. Arizona), NASA
Deep shadows create dramatic contrasts between light and dark in this high-resolution close-up of the martian surface. Recorded on January 24 by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the scene spans about 1.5 kilometers across a sand dune field in a southern highlands crater. Captured when the Sun was just 5 degrees above the local horizon, only the dune crests are caught in full sunlight. With the long, cold winter approaching the red planet’s southern hemisphere, bright ridges of seasonal frost line the martian dunes.

NASA APOD 22-mar-2014

A Hole in Mars

Image Credit: NASA, JPL, U. Arizona

Explanation: What created this unusual hole in Mars? The hole was discovered by chance in 2011 on images of the dusty slopes of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano taken by the HiRISE instrument aboard the robotic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter currently circling Mars. The hole appears to be an opening to an underground cavern, partly illuminated on the image right. Analysis of this and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across, while the interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep. Why there is a circular crater surrounding this hole remains a topic of speculation, as is the full extent of the underlying cavern. Holes such as this are of particular interest because their interior caves are relatively protected from the harsh surface of Mars, making them relatively good candidates to contain Martian life. These pits are therefore prime targets for possible future spacecraft, robots, and even human interplanetary explorers.

APOD NASA 09-Mar-2014

Mount Sharp on the Horizon

Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSL, Navcam
Explanation: Get out your red/blue glasses (red for the left eye) and look out over this expansive martian landscape. The panoramic stereo view is composed of images from the roving Curiosity’s Navcam taken at a rest stop during a 100 meter drive on Sol 548 (February 19). The 5.5 kilometer high peak of Mount Sharp, also known as Aeolis Mons, is on the horizon, its base a destination for Curiosity. In the foreground are rows of striated rocks along the Junda outcrop. Centered toward the south-southeast the scene spans 160 degrees. (Another Navcam image here looks back along Curiosity’s route at the end of the Sol’s drive on Mars.)

NASA APOD 08-Mar-2014

Martian Sunset

Image Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Texas A&M, Cornell, JPL, NASA

What would it be like to see a sunset on Mars? To help find out, the robotic rover Spirit was deployed in 2005 to park and watch the Sun dip serenely below the distant lip of Gusev crater. Colors in theabove image have been slightly exaggerated but would likely be apparent to a human explorer’s eye. Fine martian dust particles suspended in the thin atmosphere lend the sky a reddish color, but the dust also scatters blue light in the forward direction, creating a bluish sky glow near the setting Sun. Because Mars is farther away, the Sun is less bright and only about two thirds the diameter it appears from Earth. Images like this help atmospheric scientists understand not only the atmosphere of Mars, but atmospheres across the Solar System, including our home Earth.

NASA APOD 02-Mar-2014

Crossing Dingo Gap on Mars


Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS; Digital processing: Damia Bouic

 An important threshold on Mars has now been crossed. Landing in mid-2012, the Curiosity rover is searching for clues of whether life could ever have existed on the red planet. Recent findings of Curiosity include evidence for an ancient (but now dried) freshwater lake, and the non-detection of the biomarker methane in the Martian atmosphere. To continue its investigation, the car-sized rover is on an expedition to roll up Mt. Sharp, the central peak of the large crater in which it landed. Life might have shown preference for water that once ran down the Martian mountain. Two weeks ago, to avoid more dangerous and rocky terrain, Curiosity was directed to roll across a one-meter high sand dune that blocked a useful entrance to Mt. Sharp. Just after the short trip over Dingo Gap was successful, the robotic rover took the above image showing the now-traversed sand mound covered with its wheel tracks.

NASA APOD 18-feb-2014
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Mars and Orion over Monument Valley

Image Credit & Copyright: Wally Pacholka (Astropics, TWAN)

Welcome to The World At Night. Sharing the night sky seen around the world, this view from Monument Valley, USA includes a picturesque foreground of famous buttes. Buttes are composed of hard rock left behind after water eroded away the surrounding soft rock. The two buttes on the image left are known as the Mittens, while Merrick Butte is on the right. Recorded in 2007 December, planet Mars is at the left of the skyscape, a glowing beacon of orange that is the brightest object in the frame. To the right of Mars lies the constellation of Orion. Betelgeuse is the reddish star near the center and the Belt of Orion and the Orion Nebula are farther right. Finally, the bright blue star Rigel appears above Merrick Butte in this stunning view of The World At Night.
NASA APOD 02-Feb-2014

Jelly Donut Shaped Rock Appears on Mars

Image Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Cornell, JPL, NASA
Explanation: What if a rock that looked like a jelly donut suddenly appeared on Mars? That’s just what happened in front of the robotic Opportunity rover currently exploring the red planet. The unexpectedly placed rock,pictured above, was imaged recently by Opportunity after not appearing in other images taken as recently as twelve Martian days (sols) before. Given the intriguing mystery, the leading explanation is somewhat tame — the rock was recently scattered by one of the rover’s tires. Even so, the rock’s unusual light tones surrounding a red interior created interest in its composition — as well as causing it to be nicknamed Jelly Donut. A subsequent chemical analysis showed the rock has twice the abundance of manganese than any other rock yet examined — an unexpected clue that doesn’t yet fit into humanity’s understanding of the Martian geologic history.Opportunity, just passing its 10-year anniversary on Mars, continues to explore the Murray Ridge section of the rim of 22-kilometer wide Endeavor Crater.

NASA APOD 29-Jan-2014

Opportunity’s Decade on Mars

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State U.

Explanation: On January 25 (UT) 2004, the Opportunity rover fell to Mars, making today the 10th anniversary of its landing. After more than 3,500 sols (Mars solar days) the golf cart-sized robot from Earth is still activelyexploring the Red Planet, though its original mission plan was for three months. This self-portrait was made with Opportunity’s panoramic camera earlier this month. The camera’s supporting mast has been edited out of the image mosaic but its shadow is visible on the dusty solar panels arrayed across the rover’s deck. For comparison, a similar self-portrait from late 2004 is shown in the inset. Having driven some 39 kilometers (24 miles) from its landing site, Opportunity now rests at Solander Point at the rim of Endeavour Crater.

NASA APOD 25-Jan-2014