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MSL Landing
Posted August 04, 2012 at 03:12 PM

Ah, summer, when a (not so) young researcher's fancy turns to thoughts of trying to catch up on the research that was supposed to have been done last semester in between classes and administrative duties. But I couldn't stay silent with all the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) stuff going on!

So the big event takes place tomorrow, Sunday 5 August 2012 at 10:31 pm PDT (which is the next morning, Monday 6 August 2012 at 1:31 am EDT and 5:31 am UT). The landing site is Gale Crater, about 3300 miles (5400 km) almost due East of Olympus Mons and the Tharsis uplift.

For those wishing to watch it live, there are several options. You can start at JPL's MSL site where they have a UStream feed right there. Or you can go straight to the NASA TV site for their feed. Check out their schedule for all the coverage; since it's an in-page program, I can't give you a link to the exact day/time of MSL coverage, but it looks like they are starting up about 2.5 hours before the landing event.

As a warm-up, check out the 31 July 2012 Astronomy Picture of the Day where they linked to the Seven Minutes of Terror video. Watch it and you'll think the engineers and mission planners are totally crazy, or incredible geniuses. Of course, they could be both...

This is a very ambitious project. Curiosity is about the size of a small car and carries a much larger payload of instruments than its previous kin. NASA released a great size comparison photo of the three generations of rovers, with a couple of domesticated engineers for scale.

If you could sum up Spirit and Opportunity as "engineering with some geology", this one is more about "search for life". Well, not really; it will be doing some work to look for evidence of a life-friendly past environment—nobody is expecting to see any "bugs".

I'll write more later on the science and instruments, but you can see what the mission folks have to say about them at the MSL web site.

Good luck Curiosity!

Posted April 02, 2012 at 08:50 AM

Well, we're now past opposition, but the images are still coming in (about 70 in the last month!), and looking great! Cap clouds over the various volcanoes are easy to see, as is the residual north polar cap and even clouds in Hellas Basin. When imaged in blue light, and stretched, the entire aphelion cloud belt can even be seen. Not seeing much evidence for dust storms, but then, this isn't really the season for them.

Today, if the weather holds out here in South Jersey, our Rowan University Department of Physics and Astronomy will be holding an observatory open house where yours truly will be running an 8" telescope trained on Mars. We'll also be recommissioning our 0.4 m telescope (it was down for mirror cleaning and some analysis to come up with a solution to reduce high frequency vibrations caused by building air handling). If you're in the area, drop by!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is still going strong. In fact, in March the HiRISE instrument captured an image of a dust devil wending across the surface! And the MARCI instrument continues to create its weekly global images; here's the one fro 19–15 March 2012. According to the mission web site, MRO has sent back almost 159 TB (yes, terrabytes) of data. That's a lot of analysis yet to be done.

Opportunity is still parked on the rim of Endeavour Crater for the southern winter season but doing some science even with its low energy levels. It's working on collecting microimagry and X-Ray spectroscopy of a nearby rock. And its even trying to get a low light panorama image set of its surroundings.

Curiosity is still in cruise phase, on its way Mars. As of yesterday, it is halfway there; the countdown to landing is just over 125 days. The first two mid-course corrections have gone well.

And, just in case you forgot about it, the 2001 Mars Odyssey is still going after 10 years in orbit; that makes it the longest running Mars mission ever!

Posted March 02, 2012 at 10:06 AM

It's almost here! It was a great sight last night as I left the office to look up in the sky and see Venus, Jupiter, and a very bright, and very reddish, Mars. Granted, due to campus lighting those three, plus the Moon and Sirius were about all I could see...

I'm really enjoying all the images being submitted. It is truly some impressive work and fun to go through the images over time to see the transformation of Mars from small round object as it came out of conjunction to the detailed world near opposition.

This Saturday my home institution (Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ) will be hosting an open house and we'll have a small cadre of telescopes on the building rooftop [above the campus lighting!] so that any and all visitors can see Mars for themselves.

Well, at least that's the plan...the weather report seems to be disagreeing with us but we'll make that call sometime mid-afternoon.

Approaching opposition
Posted February 08, 2012 at 09:13 AM

Mars opposition is getting closer and imaging of the Red Planet is really stepping up. I want to thank all the MarsWatch contributors for their donations—just click on the Images link in the menu to see our journey so far.

Again, if any Mars observers are maintaining their own site for their images, I'd like to hear from you (just click on my name below) and I'll add a like to your site at the bottom of the images page. Preferably a link directly to your Mars images page.

In rover news, Curiosity (the Mars Science Laboratory) is under way to Mars after a successful launch last (USA) Thanksgiving weekend. The MSL team has put out a short story on the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and its calibration targets. The color chips are leftovers from the MER program (Spirit and Opportunity) which, assuming there was no degradation in the pigments, means MSL images will be calibrated in the same way as the MER images making intercomparison easier.

As a side note: I can't help but wonder if the timing of the release of Disney's John Carter movie was chosen to coincide with opposition, or was chosen simply because March is the month of Mars. Or if they were just totally clueless and it's simply coincidence. I'm assuming it's the last one.

MSL Away!
Posted November 26, 2011 at 01:55 PM

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, has lifted off and is on its way to Mars! It is scheduled to land next August after about 8.5 months of cruise.

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