A European probe in orbit around Mars just photographed two deep blue patches on the Martian surface, but while they might look like lakes to the untrained eye, don’t be deceived. The spots are actually layers of dark, volcanic rock that appear blue in the photo taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. From possible blue auroras to a blue sunset, this photo is just the latest in a series of “blue” images of the red planet.
For the first time, an international team of scientists from NASA, the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble (IPAG), the European Space Agency and Aalto University in Finland, have predicted that colorful, glowing aurorae can be seen by the naked eye on a terrestrial planet other than Earth — Mars.
Visible Martian aurorae seemed possible after the SPICAM imaging instrument on-board the ESA satellite Mars Express spotted aurorae from space in 2005. Those observations were confirmed in March 2015 by the NASA-led MAVEN mission, which completed 1,000 orbits around the red planet on April 6, 2015.
Through laboratory experiments and a physical numerical model developed at NASA and IPAG, the study shows that, on Mars, aurorae also occur in the visible range. The most intense color is deep blue. As on Earth, green and red colors are also present. Several times during a solar cycle, after intense solar eruptions, these lights are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
NASA has beefed up a process of traffic monitoring, communication and maneuver planning to ensure that Mars orbiters do not approach each other too closely.
Last year’s addition of two new spacecraft orbiting Mars brought the census of active Mars orbiters to five, the most ever. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission joined the 2003 Mars Express from ESA (the European Space Agency) and two from NASA: the 2001 Mars Odyssey and the 2006 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The newly enhanced collision-avoidance process also tracks the approximate location of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, a 1997 orbiter that is no longer working.
It’s not just the total number that matters, but also the types of orbits missions use for achieving their science goals. MAVEN, which reached Mars on Sept. 21, 2014, studies the upper atmosphere. It flies an elongated orbit, sometimes farther from Mars than NASA’s other orbiters and sometimes closer to Mars, so it crosses altitudes occupied by those orbiters. For safety, NASA also monitors positions of ESA’s and India’s orbiters, which both fly elongated orbits
In May, the ‘webcam’ on board Mars Express will be available for public imaging requests. We’re inviting schools, science clubs and youth groups to submit proposals for one of eight opportunities to image another planet.
ESA are inviting public proposals for a number of observation slots using the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board Mars Express.
VMC – the ‘Mars Webcam’ – is a simple, low-resolution device that was originally intended only to provide visual confirmation of Beagle lander separation. Since 2007, it has provided unique images of Mars, including crescent views of the planet not obtainable from Earth, which are routinely shared via a dedicated blog and Flickr. Online registration: Deadline 12:00 CET, 27 March
Mars Robotic Spacecraft Population Reaches New High IEEE Spectrum
September has shaped up to be a very exciting month in the annals of Mars exploration. Two new spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission and India’s first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), have now entered orbit around the Red Planet.
The new arrivals bring the population of active Mars missions to seven—a record high, confirms Bruce Betts of The Planetary Society, a space advocacy organization. On the ground now are Opportunity, which landed in 2004, and NASA’s Curiosity rover, which recently entered its third year of operation.
MAVEN and MOM join a complement of three orbiters: NASA’s 13-year-old Mars Odyssey spacecraft, the European Space Agency’s 11-year-old Mars Express spacecraft, and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived in 2006.
Mars Orbiters Duck for Cover Sky & Telescope
As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.
Comet’s Brush With Mars Offers Opportunity, Not Danger University of Maryland
Comet Siding Spring will brush astonishingly close to Mars later this year – close enough to raise concerns about the safety of three spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. But after observing Siding Spring through a satellite-mounted telescope, University of Maryland comet experts found that it poses little danger to the Mars craft. The NASA spacecraft will be able to get an unprecedented close look at the changes happening to this “fresh” comet as it nears the sun – as well as any changes its passing may trigger in the Martian atmosphere.
Fresh comets like Siding Spring, which have never before approached the sun, contain some of the most ancient material scientists can study. The UMD astronomers’ observations are part of a two-year-long research campaign to watch how the comet’s activity changes during its travels.
A huge meteorite impact on Mars five million years ago blasted toward Earth many of the rocks that scientists scrutinize to learn more about the Red Planet, a new study reveals.
The cosmic crash left a 34-mile-wide (55 kilometers) gouge on Mars called Mojave Crater and is the source of all “shergottite” or igneous rock Martian meteorites found on Earth, researchers say. Examining the crater and the meteorites also led to new revelations about how old the rocks are.
Mars Express — the first European spacecraft built to investigate another planet — has been snapping color and 3D images of Mars for 10 years.
To honor the Martian anniversary, the European Space Agency has released a spectacular new fly-over video of Mars showing off some of the striking images captured by the Mars Express spacecraft from its place in orbit.
The flood plain in the video is called Kasei Valles, and scientists think it was created during intense flooding events on Mars, ESA officials wrote in a description. The entire video covers an area of about 598,000 square miles (1.55 million square kilometers), which is about equal to the size of Mongolia. Kasei Valles is one of the biggest outflow channels on Mars.
Late this month, ESA’s Mars Express will make the closest flyby yet of the Red Planet’s largest moon Phobos, skimming past at only 45 km above its surface.
The flyby on 29 December will be so close and fast that Mars Express will not be able to take any images, but instead it will yield the most accurate details yet of the moon’s gravitational field and, in turn, provide new details of its internal structure.
As the spacecraft passes close to Phobos, it will be pulled slightly off course by the moon’s gravity, changing the spacecraft’s velocity by no more than a few centimetres per second. These small deviations will be reflected in the spacecraft’s radio signals as they are beamed back to Earth, and scientists can then translate them into measurements of the mass and density structure inside the moon.