How far away is Mars? The exact answer varies, of course, as both it and our planet are constantly moving along their own orbits around the Sun. At the time of this writing Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us, 2.413 AU away as the space crow flies (which equates to nearly 361 million km or 224.3 million miles) and, back in 2003, Mars and Earth were at their closest in 50,000 years at a scant 56 million km/33.9 million miles apart. So on average, Mars is about 225 million km/140 million miles from Earth. Give or take a few.
For the sake of convenience, let’s say we reduced Earth to a sphere 100 pixels in diameter and you could travel outward at a velocity of 7,000 pixels/second (which is, to scale, about 3 times light speed) how far would Mars be? Find out here.
There’s nothing like a beautiful sunny day in Gale crater! The rusty sand crunching beneath your wheels, a gentle breeze blowing at a balmy 6º C (43º F), Mount Sharp rising in the distance into a clear blue sky… wait, did I just say blue sky?
Yes I did. But no worries — Mars hasn’t sprouted a nitrogen-and-oxygen atmosphere overnight. The image above is a crop from a panorama made of images from NASA’s Curiosity rover showing Gale crater’s central peak, Mount Sharp (officially Aeolis Mons.) Don’t let the blue sky fool you though — the lighting has been purposely adjusted to look like a sunlit scene on Earth… if only to let geologists more easily refer to their own experience when studying the Martian landscape.
It may look like a scene from the US southwest but it’s actually somewhere much, much farther away… 206.3 million miles away, to be exact — it’s a view from the Curiosity rover looking toward the center of Gale Crater, where the informally-named Mount Sharp rises up 3.4 miles from the crater floor.
Water, methane, organic compounds, Twinkies, Amelia Earhart’s plane… there’s just so many cool things for Curiosity to find on Mars!
This little production by Seattle-based Cinesaurus may be a parody of “Dumb Ways to Die” but there’s certainly nothing dumb about the exciting things that Curiosity’s already found in its brief time in Gale Crater… and there’s undoubtedly lots more to come. So enjoy the video, let your own imagination roam — er, rove — and keep an eye out for facehuggers. They’re tricky!
(If only Curiosity really could save Spirit!!)
Kidding aside, the internet science world is abuzz with the anticipation of some big news from the Mars Science Laboratory team, spurring many on Twitter to make up their own amusing suggestions. (Martian Twinkies??) What that news could be — organic compounds? water ice? methane outgassings? — is still anyone’s guess. But since this IS Mars we’re talking about, any “big news” is of course awaited with bated breath.
Stay tuned for more!
(And if you don’t know the story that inspired the picture above, click here.)
UPDATE: Apparently the NPR article that spurred rumors of big discoveries from Curiosity was a misunderstanding… while data from the rover is “one for the history books,” that pertains to the mission as a whole — not any individual discovery. It was not made entirely clear, but the internet ran with the more exciting option. Another example of why you can’t always believe what you hear. Still, news from the MSL mission will be delivered very soon.
“Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect… at this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.” – JPL news release, 29 Nov. 2012
Read more here.
Remember that curious object spotted on Mars a few days ago by Curiosity? After JPL researchers determined it was likely a piece of plastic wrap from a cable that shook loose during the landing sequence, the rover took this shot with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on 10/12.
I’m no scientist, but yeah… it’s totally a piece of plastic.
Keep calm and carry on, Curiosity!
Follow the ongoing Mars exploration missions here.