August 15th, 2014

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.

March 20th, 2004

Mars’s Air Up There Sky & Telescope

Since their arrival on the red planet, the Mars Exploration Rovers have sent back thousands of breathtaking pictures of the ruddy landscape. The rovers are doing much more than analyzing rocks and looking for water. Michael Wolff (Planetary Science Institute), Michael Smith (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center), and others have been using Spirit and Opportunity to learn as much as they can about Mars’s atmosphere and weather.

March 18th, 2004

Follow the Hematite Sky & Telescope

When planetary scientists reviewed potential landing sites for the Mars Exploration Rovers, Meridiani Planum rose to the top of the list. Opportunity’s future destination was known from orbital studies to be covered by hematite

February 13th, 2004

Amateur Shoots Mars “Picture of the Year” Sky & Telescope

A California amateur astrophotographer recently received a unique double honor by having two of his Mars images featured in two well-known publications. Wally Pacholka’s portraits of the red planet last July 21st over Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park near Lake Mead were chosen by TIME and LIFE magazines for their respective editions of pictorial highlights of 2003. His photo of brilliant Mars shining through Arch Rock was published as one of TIME’s “Pictures of the Year” last December 22nd, while his image showing the planet next to a formation called Poodle Rock is in LIFE’s “The Year in Pictures.”

December 20th, 2003

Marsbound Sky & Telescope

At first glance, this photo looks like yet another lame attempt at a UFO hoax. But in reality it’s an important milestone in Western Europe’s first attempt to land a science package on the surface of another planet. At 8:31 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on December 19, the British-built Beagle 2 Mars lander successfully separated from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. Mars Express’s Visual Monitoring Camera took this image of Beagle 2 (far left) about two minutes after separation. Beagle 2 is just 20 meters (66 feet) from the mother ship and pulling ahead at a relative speed of about 0.3 meter per second.

September 11th, 2003

Mars: The Show Continues Sky & Telescope

Now that Mars’s record-breaking close approach is history (it happened on the night of August 26

July 13th, 2003

Moon Occults Mars Sky & Telescope

During the predawn hours of Thursday, July 17th, the waning gibbous Moon will cover Mars for skywatchers in southeastern Florida, the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America. Because the planet

May 12th, 2003

Mars in 2003: Which Side Is Visible? Sky & Telescope

It is not enough to describe the 2003 apparition of Mars as unique. In late August, as if beckoning us to touch its enchanting, exotic shores, the red planet will reach magnitude

April 15th, 2003

NASA Sets Its Sites on Mars Sky & Telescope

After an exhaustive two-year selection process, NASA has announced the target zones on Mars where a pair of sophisticated rovers are to land early next year. The first of these Mars Exploration Rovers (MER A) will head for a large, sediment-filled crater called Gusev, while MER B is going to the mysterious flatlands of Meridiani Planum. Both sites show ample evidence, though in different ways, that liquid water was present in ancient times.

June 21st, 2002

Lakebed Testifies to Warm, Wet Mars Sky & Telescope

The discovery of a huge ancient lakebed in the equatorial highlands of Mars, based on data from Mars Global Surveyor’s camera and altimeter, bolsters the widely held but still controversial view that Mars supported a widespread hydrosphere and warm climate during its early history.