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.
There’s a lot of planetary activity in the dawn sky in mid-April. If you’re an early riser in the British Isles, let the waning crescent Moon be your guide to the naked-eye planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars on 15 and 16 April 2020. Typical 7×50 or 10×50 binoculars will show these attractive conjunctions well, while the smallest of telescopes also reveal some of Jupiter’s bright Galilean moons.