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.
On the evening of Monday, 30 May, Mars is closer to Earth than at any time since 30 October 2005. This begs the question: just how close can Mars get? Ade Ashford gives you an overview of close Martian oppositions past, present and future. Also, Friday, 3 June sees the opposition of Saturn, the other planet visible low in the south around midnight.
Liquid water existing on the surface of Mars, in the here and now, has been the holy grail of Martian exploration for some time, but in October 2015 NASA announced that the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) had turned water-diviner to find compelling evidence that water is bursting out onto the red surface and trickling down the slopes of crater walls and hillsides.
On 18 June at the end of civil twilight in the UK, planets Mars and Mercury lie slightly less than one-quarter of a degree apart in the constellation of Gemini. Observing this conjunction will be a challenge from the UK as the pair will be just 5 degrees high in the west-northwest at civil dusk in bright twilight, which is about 50 minutes after sunset for London.