UPDATE: InSight landed successfully on Mars on 26 Nov 2018. The microchip with my name and 2.4 million others is now resting on Mars attached to the spacecraft.
6 Nov 2017: My bags are packed. I am ready to join 2.4 million other passengers as we begin our journey to Mars in May 2018 aboard the INSIGHT spacecraft. The trip will take about 7 months. It is a one-way journey.
Click to read the fine print. My flight miles award will be enormous.
INSIGHT is the acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. NASA loves acronyms. Previous Mars missions have studied intensively the surface and atmosphere of the planet. This spacecraft is the first designed to study the interior in hopes of finding clues to the formation of the rocky inner planets. The spacecraft will use seismology, heat flow equipment, and very precise tracking to probe the planet below ground.
I love to see scientists celebrate success of their work. Today the InSight spacecraft made a safe landing on the surface of Mars. It was a tense 7 minutes. The video has been set to begin moments before touchdown. Watch and enjoy.
The sky has been graced by four planets in recent weeks shortly after sunset. Farthest west has been Venus. Next toward the east has been Jupiter, then fainter Saturn, and brilliant Mars in the southeast. This view from Starry Nite desktop software shows their arrangement in mid-August soon after sunset.
The Moon was a new thin crescent on 11 Sep soon after sunset here photographed by Heiko Ulbricht in Germany.
Heiko Ulbricht | September 11, 2018 | @ Mt. Lerchenberg, Saxony, Germany
Each successive night after 11 Sep, the Moon appeared farther east in the evening sky as it orbited Earth. Our weather forecast predicted a series of clear days which gave me hope of capturing an image of the Moon near each of the four planets during the coming week.
The International Space Station approached from the northwest at 9 pm on 8 Aug 2018. It went high overhead in a southeasterly direction. It tracked above Saturn and the Teapot in Sagittarius before disappearing near Mars. There it entered the darkness of Earth’s shadow.
Taken on iPad with NightCap | ISS mode | 189 sec exp
Here is the same image annotated. Can you also see the light trails left by two passing jets? Tap images for more detailed views.
Looking SE at 9 pm
It has begun. Mars is making the turn from its usual eastward progress across the sky. It will appear to move westward for the next two months. At the end of August it will slowly turn and head eastward again. Why? How can that be?
Mars in retrograde 2018 | Click to embiggen
The answer is simple. Earth orbits closer to the Sun than Mars. We move faster than Mars. We are passing Mars at this time. It is the same perspective as when passing another car. The passed car appears to move backward relative to your faster car.
In addition, Mars grows in size when viewed through telescopes until the end of July. After that, it will decrease in size. If you have access to a telescope, look for Mars in the east after sunset. You’ll need a high power to see any detail. Let’s hope the dust storm settles to reveal those details.
The graphic below from BinTel illustrates the apparent change in diameter given in arc-seconds (“). At the end of July, the Moon will appear about 24″ wide. For reference, the angular diameter of the Sun, or a full moon, is about 1800”, half a degree. That is the width of your little fingernail seen at arm’s length.
BinTel | Andy Casely
Earth has been moving closer to Mars this spring as we orbit the Sun. We reach inferior conjunction, our closest to the planet, in late July 2018. Mars will appear larger in telescope views until then. No, it will not appear as large as a full moon contrary to an internet meme that has gone around for years.
Saturn is in the distant backround when viewed early in the mornings. Because Mars is closer to the Sun than Saturn, it passed by the slower moving Saturn. This short animation illustrates the passage. Watch Saturn slowly move across the frame. Also, watch for the Moon to pass by at the end of the animation. That happened on 7 April 2018.
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The Twins Study
How does an extended mission in space lasting as long as a year affect the human body? Answers to that question are being investigated by ten research teams from around the country. They used astronaut twins Mike Kelly and Scott Kelly as subjects. Scott spent 340 days aboard the Space Station from 27 March 2015 to 1 March 2016. Mike remained on Earth. Each was tested in a variety of ways by the research teams in order to compare results of long duration space flight.
Scott Kelly (left) and Mike Kelly (right) | NASA
Scott Kelly wrote the book Endurance about his experience. It is an excellent account of the lives of Mark and Scott, how they became astronauts, and behind the scenes events in the space program. My previous posts about this Twins Study mission can be found here and here.
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