NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has spent more than a year exploring Vera Rubin Ridge on the slopes of Mount Sharp in the heart of Gale Crater. After pausing at the rover’s 19th drill site – the hole is visible to the lower left of the rover near the center of the frame – Curiosity paused to take a selfie on 15 January, the robot’s 2,291st day, or “sol,” on Mars. The Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, camera on the end of Curiosity’s robot arm snapped 57 images that were then stitched together into a panorama. The arm itself is not visible in the resulting image. Curiosity has been studying rocks along the ridge since September 2017. It is now heading for a clay-bearing trough to the south that may hold additional clues about how ancient lakes helped form the lower levels of Mount Sharp.
Observers in the British Isles looking due south close to 6pm GMT on Friday, 7 December will find magnitude +0.1 planet Mars about 30 degress, or a span and a half of an outstretched hand at arm’s length, above the horizon. What you won’t see unless you have binoculars or a small telescope is that magnitude +7.9 outermost planet Neptune lies just one-tenth of a degree from the Red Planet.
In the bright evening twilight of 14, 15 and 16 July, observers in the British Isles and Western Europe can see the waxing gibbous Moon pass by Mars, first-magnitude star Antares in Scorpius, then Saturn. This series of conjunctions occurs very low in the southern sky for UK-based astronomers, while Australasian observers are ideally placed to view the spectacle almost overhead.