For the rover’s 5th anniversary (in earth years) on Mars, NASA prepared this video explaining the geology of Gale Crater, the site of the Curiosity Rover. Describes the geology of the site and the interest for humans.
“Planetary exploration does not recognize national borders. Planetary science is inherently a collective endeavor that at some level demands a planetary, not national identity of those who practice it, as scientists from Earth try to understand our near neighbors. Many astronauts have commented on the striking absence of political boundaries on Earth when seen from space. Something of the same perspective is demanded of those of us who are stuck down here looking up, sharing resources and attempting to unravel the story of the planets.” – David Grinspoon, ‘Venus Revealed’
The photograph above is one of the most profoundly humbling images returned from humanity’s extension of itself since the Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photo taken by human astronauts upon emerging from the far dark side of the Moon. Referred to as the “Pale Blue Dot” image, this photo was taken at a distance of 3.7 billion miles away from our quaint planetary home. The significance of this image, however, does more than compel us to ponder our existence and view ourselves from a baffling vantage point in space. It represents an era of human ambition we reference in passing as the “Golden Age of Planetary Exploration”.
During the 60′s and 70′s, the American space program (NASA, JPL) surged with burgeoning technological development, data collection, applicable catalysts of innovation which spurred progress in other industries amongst our society, and at the height of it all, this image was taken of our home during the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 “Grand Tour” of the solar system. Using gravitational assist to essentially “slingshot” their way through the solar system, the spacecraft duo encountered an assortment of vibrant, enigmatic, and active features amongst the known outer planets while surveying dozens of moons and returning a wealth of iconic data before gracefully exiting the solar system. We’ve had numerous planetary surveillance missions since then, from Galileo, Messenger, and Cassini, to LADEE, Rosetta, Dawn, and the Mars Orbiter Mission. During the 60′s and 70′s however, things seemed to be ramping up, rather than slowing down.
Now, with New Horizons’ mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, we’re feeling that excitement we once felt not so long ago while surveying these seemingly familiar but not so well understood worlds. It’s important to mention this because our willingness to explore, develop new technologies, and carry out bold endeavors never faded. As legislative seats moved around and Congressional budgets allocated funding to “more important” areas of our society (i.e., election-cycle, shorter-term priorities), the drought for planetary exploration funding - let alone human spaceflight and space exploration funding in general - has become much more pronounced, leading to low visibility amidst the public, which is why the Curiosity mission to Mars, the Rosetta spacecraft rendezvous with a comet, and this New Horizons flyby of Pluto are currently holding the attention of the world. We simply aren’t exploring like we used to (be able to do). Although this appears to be a grim view, I’m optimistic about the future of space exploration with so many countries investing into their own programs and new launch providers at the helm which are already ushering in truly revolutionary new mechanisms from the nano to macro scale.
(Above) New Horizons spacecraft, November 2005 at Kennedy Space Center.
New Horizons represents something powerful. As we all celebrate this exciting moment in history (which is indeed poised to rewrite it upon arrival), reflect on the near-incomprehensible distance this spacecraft is from its womb. The “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth was taken at a distance of 3.7 billion miles. Pluto is 4.67 billion miles away. Viewing the Earth from Pluto would be difficult to discern amidst the (Carl’s words) “bastion and the citadel of the stars.”
After the celebrations fade and the news media withdrawals its coverage of extraterrestrial activity, don’t let your own ambitions and hopes for our discovery and exploration retire amongst the humdrum daily routine we’ve become so comfortable. Demand more from your legislators, government, and yourself. Get involved with a local astronomical society. Explore a career in the STEM fields in preparation for your own activity in the space industry. Launch your own project by funding it through Endeavorist! Above all, stay curious and share your #PlutoFlyBy experience with others.
Help us find the most interesting spots to image on Jupiter, learn how Hubble is helping the Voyager craft find their way and more!
1. Calling All Citizen Scientists!
Join the Mission Juno virtual imaging team by helping us to determine the best locations in Jupiter’s atmosphere that JunoCam will capture. Voting is open January 19-23, 2017. Visit www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam for more information about JunoCam voting.
2. Leading the Way
Our Hubble Space Telescope is providing a road map for the two Voyager spacecraft as they hurtle through unexplored territory on their trip beyond our solar system. Along the way, the Voyager craft are measuring the interstellar medium, the mysterious environment between stars. Hubble is measuring the material along the probes’ future trajectories and even after the Voyagers run out of electrical power and are unable to send back new data, which may happen in about a decade, astronomers can use Hubble observations to characterize the environment of through which these silent ambassadors will glide.
3. Explorers Wanted
Mars needs YOU! In the future, Mars will need all kinds of explorers, farmers, surveyors, teachers … but most of all YOU! Join us on the Journey to Mars as we explore with robots and send humans there one day. Download a Mars poster that speaks to you. Be an explorer!
January 22 is the 425th birthday of Pierre Gassendi, French philosopher, priest, scientist, astronomer, mathematician and an active observational scientist. He was the first to publish data on the 1631 transit of Mercury. The Lunar Crater Gassendi is named for him.
Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.
With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.”
On May 22 Mars will be at opposition. That’s when Mars, Earth and the sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle. A few days later, Mars and Earth will reach the points in their orbits around the sun where they are nearest to each other. The closer Mars comes to Earth in its orbit, the larger and brighter it appears in the sky.
It’s an opportunity for backyard skywatchers—and a good time to catch up on all the exploration now underway at the Red Planet. Here are a few things to know this week about Mars:
1. Red Star Rising
The best time to see Mars at its brightest is when it’s highest in the sky, which is around midnight during May. Look toward the south in the constellation Scorpius (where right now you can also catch the planet Saturn). If you have a telescope, you may be able to pick out some of the features on its surface. But don’t fall for Internet rumors claiming that Mars will appear as big as the full moon. Instead, it will look like a bright, reddish or orange star. Get Mars viewing tips HERE.
2. Roving Weather Reporter
Our Mars Curiosity mission has now been roving across the floor of Gale Crater for two full Martian years—that’s four Earth years. This robotic geologist is a meteorologist, too, and its long journey has allowed it to observe the local weather for two full seasonal cycles. During that time, the rover’s instruments have recorded temperatures ranging from 60.5 degrees Fahrenheit (15.9 degrees Celsius) on a summer afternoon, to minus 148 F (minus 100 C) on a winter night. They also detected an intriguing spike in methane gas—but it hasn’t happened since.
3. Increasing Clouds, with a Chance of Dust Storms
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter keeps an eye on Martian weather, too, but on a global scale. Every week, you can see the latest weather report, including an animation showing storms and clouds across the face of Mars.
4. Walking the Ancient Shoreline
Mars explorers have studied evidence for years that the early history of the planet included times where liquid water flowed and pooled freely. But just how deep those ancient lakes were, and how long they lasted, remains a topic of debate. A new study offers a more detailed picture of the rise and fall of standing bodies of water.
5. Wish Upon a Star
It’s true that Mars will be especially bright in the sky this week. But did you ever consider that Earth often shines for Mars as well? This image from the Curiosity rover shows our whole world as a single point of light. When people finally do stand on Mars, they’ll be able to look at the twilight sky—and see home. Left: the Earth and the Moon in the evening sky of Mars, as seen by the Curiosity rover. Right: Mars rising over Salt Lake City. Mars credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU. Earth credit: Bill Dunford.
Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE.