Tag Archives: Red Planet

NASA Space Place – A Close-Up View Of Mars

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in July, 2018.

By Jane Houston Jones and Jessica Stoller-Conrad

2013february2_spaceplaceIn July 2018, skywatchers can get an up close view of Mars—even without a telescope! In fact, on July 31, Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been in 15 years.

Why is that?

Like all the planets in our solar system, Earth and Mars orbit the Sun. Earth is closer to the Sun, and therefore it races along its orbit more quickly. Earth makes two trips around the Sun in about the same amount of time that Mars takes to make one trip.

Sometimes the two planets are on opposite sides of the Sun and are very far apart. Other times, Earth catches up with its neighbor and passes relatively close to it. This is called Mars’s closest approach to Earth, and it’s happening this year on July 31. The Moon will be near Mars on that night, too!

Keep in mind that even during its closest approach, Mars is still more than 35 million miles away from Earth. That’s really far. So, Mars won’t appear as big as the Moon in the sky, but it will appear bigger than it usually does.

July and August will be a great time to check out Mars. Through a telescope, you should normally be able to make out some of the light and dark features of the Red Planet—and sometimes even polar ice. However, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring these features right now, so less planetary detail is visible.

There is another important Mars date in July: Mars opposition. Mars opposition is when Mars, Earth and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle. This event is happening on July 27 this year.

Although you may see news focusing on one of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months. For about three weeks before and three weeks after opposition and closest approach, the planet will appear the same size to a skywatcher.

From July 7 through September 7 Mars will be the third brightest object in the sky (after the Moon and Venus), shining even brighter than Jupiter. The best time to view Mars during this time is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.

Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

In other sky news, there will be a partial solar eclipse on July 13, but it will only be visible from Northern Antarctica and southern Australia. On July 27 (beginning at 20:21 UTC), a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing Moon!

If you’re wanting to look ahead to next month, prepare for August’s summer Perseid meteor shower. It’s not too early to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year!

You can catch up on NASA’s missions to Mars and all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov

Caption:In 2018, Mars will appear brightest from July 27 to July 30. Its closest approach to Earth is July 31. That is the point in Mars’ orbit when it comes closest to Earth. Mars will be at a distance of 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA Space Place – Twenty Years Ago on Mars…

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in July, 2017.

By Linda Hermans-Killiam

2013february2_spaceplaceOn July 4, 1997, NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed on the surface of Mars. It landed in an ancient flood plain that is now dry and covered with rocks. Pathfinder’s mission was to study the Martian climate, atmosphere and geology. At the same time, the mission was also testing lots of new technologies.

For example, the Pathfinder mission tried a brand-new way of landing on Mars. After speeding into the Martian atmosphere, Pathfinder used a parachute to slow down and drift toward the surface of the Red Planet. Before landing, Pathfinder inflated huge airbags around itself. The spacecraft released its parachute and dropped to the ground, bouncing on its airbags about 15 times. After Pathfinder came to a stop, the airbags deflated.

Before Pathfinder, spacecraft had to use lots of fuel to slow down for a safe landing on another planet. Pathfinder’s airbags allowed engineers to use and store less fuel for the landing. This made the mission less expensive. After seeing the successful Pathfinder landing, future missions used this airbag technique, too!

Pathfinder had two parts: a lander that stayed in one place, and a wheeled rover that could move around. The Pathfinder lander had special instruments to study Martian weather. These instruments measured air temperature, pressure and winds. The measurements helped us better understand the climate of Mars.

The lander also had a camera for taking images of the Martian landscape. The lander sent back more than 16,000 pictures of Mars. Its last signal was sent to Earth on Sept. 27, 1997. The Pathfinder lander was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. Carl Sagan was a well-known astronomer and science educator.

Pathfinder also carried the very first rover to Mars. This remotely-controlled rover was about the size of a microwave oven and was called Sojourner. It was named to honor Sojourner Truth, who fought for African-American and women’s rights. Two days after Pathfinder landed, Sojourner rolled onto the surface of Mars. Sojourner gathered data on Martian rocks and soil. The rover also carried cameras. In the three months that Sojourner operated on Mars, the rover took more than 550 photos!

Pathfinder helped us learn how to better design missions to Mars. It gave us valuable new information on the Martian climate and surface. Together, these things helped lay the groundwork for future missions to Mars.

Learn more about the Sojourner rover at the NASA Space Place: https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/mars-sojourner

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Caption: The Mars Pathfinder lander took this photo of its small rover, called Sojourner. Here, Sojourner is investigating a rock on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 5 July – 20 July 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News Service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft In Orbit Around Mighty Jupiter

RELEASE 16-071 (Click here for the full article) – 5 July 2016

After an almost five-year journey to the solar system’s largest planet, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit during a 35-minute engine burn. Confirmation that the burn had completed was received on Earth at 8:53 p.m. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT) Monday, July 4.

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior, but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.”

More information on the Juno mission is available at: www.nasa.gov/juno

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: facebook.com/NASAJuno twitter.com/NASAJuno

NASA Flights To Track Greenhouse Gases Across Eastern US

RELEASE 16-072 (Click here for the full article) – 6 July 2016

actamerica_c130_photoThis month, NASA begins an airborne experiment to improve scientists’ understanding of the sources of two powerful greenhouse gases and how they cycle into and out of the atmosphere.

Atmospheric Carbon and Transport–America, or ACT-America, is a multi-year airborne campaign that will measure concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in relation to weather systems. The study will gather real-time measurements from research aircraft and ground stations to improve the ability to detect and quantify the surface sources and sinks of the gases.

For more information about ACT-America, go to: act-america.larc.nasa.gov

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: www.nasa.gov/earth

NASA’s Next Mars Rover Progresses Toward 2020 Launch

RELEASE 16-072 (Click here for the full article) – 15 July 2016

m2020-rover-cadAfter an extensive review process and passing a major development milestone, NASA is ready to proceed with final design and construction of its next Mars rover, currently targeted to launch in the summer of 2020 and arrive on the Red Planet in February 2021.

The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life. Throughout its investigation, it will collect samples of soil and rock and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission.

“The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA’s Journey to Mars – to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet.”

For more information about Mars 2020, visit: mars.nasa.gov/mars2020

NASA’s Hubble Telescope Makes First Atmospheric Study Of Earth-Sized Exoplanets

RELEASE 16-076 (Click here for the full article) – 20 July 2016

hubble-trappistUsing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have conducted the first search for atmospheres around temperate, Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system and found indications that increase the chances of habitability on two exoplanets.

Specifically, they discovered that the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, approximately 40 light-years away, are unlikely to have puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres usually found on gaseous worlds.

“The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets,” said team member Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. “If they had a significant hydrogen-helium envelope, there is no chance that either one of them could potentially support life because the dense atmosphere would act like a greenhouse.”

Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, led a team of scientists to observe the planets in near-infrared light using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. They used spectroscopy to decode the light and reveal clues to the chemical makeup of an atmosphere. While the content of the atmospheres is unknown and will have to await further observations, the low concentration of hydrogen and helium has scientists excited about the implications.

For imaged and more information about Hubble, visit: nasa.gov/hubble & hubblesite.org/news/2016/27

NASA Establishes Institute to Explore New Ways to Protect Astronauts

RELEASE 16-079 (Click here for the full article) – 20 July 2016

iss036e006520NASA is joining with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston to operate a new institute charged with researching and developing innovative approaches to reduce risks to humans on long-duration exploration missions, including NASA’s Journey to Mars.

Work under the Translational Research Institute Cooperative Agreement, overseen by NASA’s Human Research Program, begins Oct. 1.

Translational research is an interdisciplinary model of research that focuses on translating fundamental research concepts into practice, with appreciable health outcomes. The NASA Translational Research Institute (NTRI) will implement a “bench-to-spaceflight” model, moving results or methods from laboratory experiments or clinical trials to point-of-care astronaut health and performance applications. The goal of the research is to produce promising new approaches, treatments, countermeasures or technologies that have practical application to spaceflight.

For more information on NASA’s Human Research Program, go to: www.nasa.gov/hrp

For more information about NASA’s Journey to Mars, visit: www.nasa.gov/journeytomars