Hey, Sky Fans!
This coming Thursday, February 18, 2021, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover will do its thing and, if everything goes smoothly, land on Mars. Once it’s there, it’ll join the Curiosity rover, which has been been exploring the red planet since since 2012. The world’s scientists have been sending various types of robots to Mars since NASA reached Mars with Mariner 4’s flyby in the early 1960s.
While it’s certainly amazing, what’s really getting me is that this spacecraft is the third one to get there this month! On February 9, the Hope orbiter from the United Arab Emirates entered orbit there, and then the next day (February 10) China’s Tianwen-1 joined the fun. It’s in orbit now, with its attempted landing coming in the spring. Here’s a photo of Mars taken by the Hope orbiter.
Amazing, right? Those three rough circles you see just to the right of the terminator (the line between day and night) are Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons from top to bottom, with Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain in the solar system, hiding in the shadows just inside the terminator.
Times like these are really incredibly inspiring to me. It’ll never stop being amazing to me that people are able to create a machine from scratch, strap it to a rocket, point it at an spot in space where it’ll it meet a planet that isn’t there when they start. These people are definitely brain surgeons of the space exploration world.
With all this going on, and as people back here on Earth do their work, let’s turn to the skies.
On Thursday, Mars and our own Moon will be in a tidy line near each other. Over the couple of nights after you can watch the Moon grow as it slides past between the Pleiades and Hyades clusters, and then off into the Winter Hexagon.
It’s pretty amazing to think that in that small patch of sky right there, we’ll be able to look at and visit with the Moon and Mars, the two worlds we’ve explored most (not counting the world you’re sitting on when you look). It’s fun to imagine the flying space robots sliding into orbit, the rovers.. roving below, and the excitement at the different mission controls as all of their hard work comes together. Here’s hoping for good luck for all of them.
It’s a little hard to keep track of Mars missions, so if you need a hand, here’s Wikipedia’s list.
I hope you’ll take a look this weekend. I hope, especially if you’ve been hit by the storms in the American south, that you’re managing to stay safe and warm.
Clear skies, everyone!