It may not look like much but it’s actually quite a lot: that bright smudge is Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) as it approached Mars to make its historic and much-anticipated close pass on Sunday, Oct. 19! The mountain-sized comet shot past Mars at an estimated distance of 88,000 miles traveling about 35 miles a second… that’s 20 times faster than a bullet fired from a 9mm handgun.
While the comet didn’t put on a big show in our sky here on Earth (although some photographers did capture it quite nicely in telescopes) the rovers on Mars and spacecraft in Martian orbit were keeping their electronic eyes on it… and NASA’s Opportunity rover, now nearly 11 years on Mars, was the first to send back a confirmed image!
If you’re loving this fantastic image of the Red Planet as much as I am, then be sure to give thanks to MOM!
Don’t call home just yet though; this is a view from India’s Mars Orbiter Mission – MOM for short – which successfully entered orbit around Mars on September 24 after a ten-month journey to meet up with our neighboring planet.
(Of course if you want to call your own mom I’m sure she’d love to hear your voice.)
Well it’s official: after over a decade of roving on Mars, NASA’s Opportunity rover has surpassed the off-world driving record previously and proudly held by the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover since 1973*! As of July 27, 2014, the tenacious solar-powered Opportunity racked 25.01 miles (40.25 kilometers) on its odometer as it traveled along the southern rim of Endeavour crater.
Not too shabby for a robot that was only originally intended to operate for 3 months!
If you’re a heavy metal fan then you’ll love this: this shiny, lumpy rock spotted by NASA’s Curiosity rover is made mostly of iron — and came from outer space! Dubbed “Lebanon” it’s a stony iron meteorite, similar to ones found in years past by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, but is considerably larger than any of the ones they came across. In fact, at 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide, Lebanon is the biggest meteorite ever discovered on Mars!
Sol 669 is here (well, there… on Mars that is…) and that marks the one full year anniversary of Curiosity’s mission exploring Gale Crater! Wait, you say, didn’t Curiosity land on Mars in August of 2012? Shouldn’t we still be approaching the TWO-year anniversary of the MSL mission? Well, yes, here on Earth, but on Mars a year is 1.8808 Earth-years long — that’s 686.9 Earth days to a single Martian year! So from landing day August 5 (August 6 UTC) 2012, 686.9 days Earth days (i.e., one Martian year) later is June 24, 2014 (which it is at the time of this writing, UTC) and thus:
Happy Mars Anniversary, Curiosity!
NASA’s Curiosity rover may be busy exploring the rugged and rocky interior of Gale Crater but it does get a chance to skygaze on occasion. And while looking at the Sun on June 3, 2014 (mission Sol 649) the rover’s Mastcam spotted another member of our Solar System: tiny Mercury, flitting across the Sun’s face.
Silhouetted against the bright disk of the Sun, Mercury barely appears as a hazy blur in the filtered Mastcam image above. But it was moving relatively quickly during the transit and passed the darker smudges of two Earth-sized sunspots over the course of several hours. It was the first time Mercury has ever been imaged from Mars, and also the first time we’ve observed a planet transiting our Sun from another world besides our own.
Read the rest of my article (and watch a cool animation of the transit) on Universe Today here.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M
What were you doing on Sunday night? Whatever it was (and by the way I do hope it was watching Cosmos) about the same time, 59.5 million miles away, NASA’s Curiosity rover was taking her picture on Mars inside Gale Crater! Here’s Curiosity’s latest “selfie,” a mosaic I assembled from about a dozen images acquired with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on April 27-28, 2014 (Sol 613). Along with Curiosity’s “grinning” face there on the left you can see the 3.5-mile-high Mount Sharp (aka Aeolis Mons) rising in the background.
Doesn’t she look adorable (if a bit dusty)?
Putting this together wasn’t an exact science, so there are plenty of discrepancies where the separate images line up. But that’s okay — the overall effect came out pretty nicely and I’m happy with it. It still a robot on another planet, after all! And until there’s people walking around on Mars, I can’t think of anything cooler than that.