The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, instrument aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sends back a steady stream of spectacular images revealing subtle and not-so-subtle surface features on the red planet. In this view, late winter sunlight, striking the martian surface at a very low angle, contributed to an intriguing HiRISE image of sand dunes dusted with carbon dioxide frost and dust. Dark spots could be areas where underlying sand is exposed thanks to earlier defrosting activity. In a tweet about the photo, the HiRISE team wrote “It was hard not to title this ‘The Duck of Mars.'” The image is the first in a new series of observations designed to track seasonal processes. The complete photo strip is available here. Can you spot the duck?
A balky interplanetary seismic instrument that ran into technical problems in 2015, forcing a two-year delay in the launch of NASA’s InSight lander to Mars, cleared a major test last month after engineers redesigned part of the sensor package, boosting confidence that the mission will be ready to blast off in May 2018.
Set your alarm for 6am GMT if you wish to see three naked-eye planets in the UK dawn sky this week. Find a location that offers an unobstructed view of the horizon from southeast to south and let the waning Moon be your guide to locating Jupiter, Mars and Saturn on successive mornings from 7 to 11 February.