Evening arrived with very clear sky and mild temperature. It was the last night of winter. The International Space Station was due to pass directly overhead from SW to NE. It would pass near the Moon, Mars, Taurus and Orion. The iPad was set with NightCap app to record for about 3 minutes. After recording the scene, I enjoyed some telescope time.
Much of the excitement has settled now that Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover is safely on the surface of Mars after the 18 Feb 2021 landing. I gathered images and links to a collection of things I feel tell the story of this rover in a not too complicated way. The mission is very challenging. A primary goal is to find evidence that microbial life may have existed on the Martian surface in the past.
Perseverance is undergoing system checks for the many sophisticated tools it carries while imaging the surroundings. Scientists are eager to begin moving the rover across the ground and to test the helicopter Ingenuity it carried under the chassis.
Touchdown in Jezero Crater
You might wonder where Perseverance landed and why is that place is important. Landing took place in Jezero Crater. The crater is about 49 km (30 mi) across. It is believed to have once been filled with water. This image shows a dried riverbed and delta of a water source that once flowed left-to-right and filled the crater. The colors are indicators of various types of mineral deposits and not actual colors. The rover landed in the lower right quadrant of this image just below the two side-by-side small craters on the flat plain and not far from the delta formation.
Scientists and space enthusiasts are excited about the upcoming landing of the exploration rover Perseverance on the surface of Mars on 18 Feb 2021. The NASA-TV broadcast from Mission Control starts at 11:15 am PST/2:15 pm EST.
The mission is designed to look for bio-signatures in a river delta of an ancient lakebed. It will harvest rock-core samples for analysis and possible return to Earth in a future mission. The rover will be joined by a small helicopter to extend its vision and reach around the area. This video (< 3 min) shows the basics of the rover design and plans for the mission. You are invited to explore more about the mission at this link.
Perseverance was launched in July of 2020. It took 7 months to coast to this meeting with Mars. On a collision course, it will enter the thin atmosphere at over 12,000 mph. The challenge is how to safely slow the vehicle and land it. This following graphic illustrates the overall plan, but not to scale.
The fast-moving craft in coast phase enters the atmosphere at upper left. A heat shield protects it and slows it down from 12,000 to 950 mph. A parachute deploys and the heat shield falls away. The craft scans the terrain to find the landing site.
At 180 mph and 1.3 miles altitude, the parachute is detached letting the vehicle fall. Rocket engines control the descent and slow it down to less than 2 mph and 60 ft. above the surface. The rover is lowered about 20 ft more by cables to touchdown on the surface. The cables detach and the rocket assembly flies far out of the way.
The technique has been done before in 2012 when the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. It was described then as 7 minutes of terror. Mars is far from Earth. By the time radio signals reach us more than 11 minutes later, events will already have played out, successfully or not. All actions are programmed. Curiosity is still functioning well on Mars today. Here is a recent selfie.
It was 6:22 am CDT. Sunrise was 6:09. I stepped outside with binoculars to see if Mars was visible near the Moon. Yes, it was easy to see. The Moon will be near Venus the morning of 15 August.
Mark your calendar for these events in August. Brought to you by the folks at NASA and JPL. All events are free. No registration required.
Wear a mask and distance yourself if you are with a group.