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An “Opportunity” to See

Sometimes the Martian surface can look pretty bleak and uninspiring.  But then, there are those images that come from NASA’s Opportunity rover that just wow you!  This image released by NASA came from Opportunity’s Pancam does just that!  This image is a composite of about a dozen images  from the basin of the Endeavour crater taken in multiple wavelengths during the Martian sunset.  The different wavelengths allow for increased contrast between different regions in the crater such as the rocky terrain at the base of the rover to the dunes, and the eastern rim in the background.  The Endeavor crater is 14 miles (22 kilometers) across which is big enough to cover the entire area of Seattle!  The  resilient Opportunity rover has been roaming the Red Planet’s surface for an amazing eight years and still produces amazing images and useful science!  It’s successor, the Curiosity rover, will touch down on Mars on August 5th, 2012 via live video stream from an on-board camera so you won’t want to miss that!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ

An Epic Landing

This is probably old news to many informed astro and space nerds (and Martians) but it still blows my mind every time I think about it.  As we know, NASA launched its massive Martian science laboratory named “Curiosity” late last year.  The one-ton rover will make the 570 million kilometer journey to Mars and enter the atmosphere on August 5, 2012.  Apart from the never before attempted method of landing using sky crane to lower the huge rover onto the surface, this landing is exciting for another reason.  Once the heat shield on the capsule is jettisoned, the small camera on the rover’s body will begin recording the last mile or two of the descent to the Martian surface shooting 1.3 millisecond exposures at 5 frames per second for approximately 2 mintues.  I’m imagining myself five months from now sitting in front of my computer with my face just inches away from the screen completely enamored with the live video coming in from another world!  It’s going to be a total geek out moment for me!  I’m not sure where the video will be viewed from, but my guess would be the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website.

Sky Crane method of landing on Mars Credit: Harry Whitver Air & Space Magazine

Also exciting about the video is that if it’s live NASA won’t be able to false color anything so it’ll be 100% authentic footage of the surface of Mars!  If that doesn’t excite you, I’m sorry.  I’m basically cursing the fact that it’s only March!  On the other hand, today is the first day of spring and the Vernal equinox so that’s pretty cool.  Get your eggs out today and try to stand them on edge.

Beautiful M95 Credit: ESO/VLT

More Mars-related news keeps coming in!  On Friday last week a potential supernova was discovered in Messier 95, a beautiful barred spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo and a part of the nearby Leo I group of galaxies.  M95 is easy to find right now because it is a mere 1/2° away from Mars.  That makes it visible in the same field of view as Mars in most telescopes at lower power.  The only trouble is that Mars is so bright this time of year that it floods the M95 area with light making it more difficult to spot.  The bright speck believed to be a supernova is located in one of the spiral arms of the galaxy so once located it is an easy find.  While unconfirmed as of yet, the supernova is believed to be a Type II which are common in spiral arms.  The nova is currently about magnitude 12 so it is invisible to the naked eye but should be easily discerned with a 6″ or bigger scope under dark skies.  There’s currently no moon so that should definitely aid your quest.  Happy hunting!

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