Perseverance’s Watson camera, mounted on the Mars rover’s robot arm, snapped robot’s first selfie on the red planet, showing the car-size rover and its diminutive sidekick, the Ingenuity helicopter, resting on the surface of the red planet. Engineers are preparing the helicopter for the first in a series of 90-second test flights starting 11 April to test the feasibility of autonomous powered flight in the ultra-thin martian atmosphere. If the tests are successful, future missions may include larger drones capable of carrying cameras and other instruments to inaccessible or hard-to-reach locations on Mars or other worlds across the solar system. But Ingenuity carries no science instruments and was added to Perseverance’s mission as a technology demonstrator. Once the test flights are complete, the rover will begin its primary mission, studying ancient lakebed and delta deposits left behind in the Jezero Crater landing site that may hold evidence of past microbial activity.
With just a month to go until the 2016 opposition of Mars, the Red Planet is now visible very low in the southeast before midnight for observers in the heart of the UK. Mars and ringed planet Saturn are presently separated by just over 7 degrees — a low power, wide-angle binocular field of view. The waning gibbous Moon passes by on the mornings of 25—26 April.
In the small hours of Friday, 16 October, innermost planet Mercury reaches its greatest westerly elongation from the Sun. For those of you in the UK with a flat, unobscured eastern horizon and willing to get up an hour before sunrise, the next few days provide your best opportunity to see Mercury from the Northern Hemisphere during 2015.