Cool! Watch a Martian sunset

Cool! Watch a Martian sunset
NASA link Look familiar? I hope so. The colors are bluish, because the Martian atmosphere is much thinner and has less oxygen and nitrogen than Earth’s.

Two moons, two planets, one asteroid and now a comet! 1

JISHOU, HUNAN — The European Space Agency’s successful landing of a probe on the surface of a comet Thursday is yet another milestone in our exploration of the solar system. It’s the latest in a series of missions that bring the exotic down to Earth. It’s also the most impressive, considering the Rosetta probe had to loop around the inner solar system for 10 years to catch up to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and the Philae lander had to guide itself to land on an object only 4 km across at its widest point. Comet 67P is more than 500 million kilometers from Earth, so it’s very unlikely any of us will have a chance to stand (carefully) on its surface. But Philae is our stand-in, and in just a day’s time sent back some impressive images. Now, you might be thinking, “So what? It’s not especially interesting. Some rocks and stuff.” But consider that this is a place 500 million km away that no one has ever seen before, a place that has been undisturbed for at least 4.5 billion years, and we get to see it! Planetary scientists are naturally also interested in the composition and structure of the comet, ...

Panoramic, high-res view of Mars by Curiosity rover

Mars Gigapixel Panorama - Curiosity rover: Martian solar days 136-149 in Out of this World Andrew Bodrov has taken 407 high-res photographs taken by the Curiosity rover to create this 360-degree panorama of the Martian surface. You can use your mouse or the cursor arrows to pan and zoom.

Meanwhile, back on Mars …

JISHOU, HUNAN — Most of my posts lately have been about China, for obvious reasons, but it’s hard to abandon being a physics teacher. So, here’s a science post. While humans have been flitting around in low-earth orbit, NASA-JPL’s Martian probes have been busy on the red planet. The arctic explorer, Phoenix, has discovered water ice in the soil and in the sky, detected snow falling from the clouds, and photographed the sun creeping up above the horizon as the martian winter approaches. This sequence just fascinates me in particular. It shows clouds scooting through the sky, much as they would here in Earth. These are water-ice clouds, like the high-altitude cirrus clouds here. Aside from practical issues like not having any oxygen to breath and sub-sub-zero temperatures, you could almost imagine yourself standing there watching the clouds go by. Phoenix has been operating for more than four months, but the approaching martian winter solstice may kill the little fellow off. Temperatures are dropping to -120C (-184F), which is bad for its electronics and especially its solar panels. Carbon dioxide frost is forming on the solar panels, cutting down sunlight reaching the solar cells. And the sun itself, as it ...

Mars is safe, for now

You don’t need to cancel any Martian vacation plans. The chances of asteroid MD5 colliding with the Red Planet are now 1 in 10,000, according to Near Earth Object Program experts. The image below shows the envelope through which the asteroid will likely pass on Jan. 30, when it intersects Mars’ orbit. Earlier estimates had the envelope overlapping Mars itself, and experts as late as yesterday had given MD5 a 1 in 40 chance of hitting the planet. Better telescopic observations of MD5’s path have narrowed the size of the envelope, reducing the odds of a collision.
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