Investigators who studied the crash of the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander on Mars last year have recommended more stringent testing and computer modeling before the launch of a joint European-Russian landing craft in 2020 to avoid a repeat of the mistakes that doomed the probe’s descent through the Martian atmosphere.
NASA has released the first high-resolution aerial colour image of the Opportunity rover’s landing site on a sprawling Martian plain, where the airbag-cushioned robot fortuitously rolled into a Eagle Crater in January 2004, putting its scientific instruments face-to-face with a block of sedimentary rock that gave ground teams confirmation Mars was once a warmer, wetter, and habitable planet.
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.
Mercury attains a greatest easterly elongation of 19 degrees from the Sun on 1 April. This solar separation combined with a favourable inclination of the ecliptic to the western horizon an hour after sunset, means that the period 25 March to around 8 April offers the year’s best evening showing of the innermost planet for Northern Hemisphere observers.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a Russian-launched, European-built spacecraft that arrived at Mars in October, is starting to dip into the upper reaches of the red planet’s atmosphere in a year-long “aerobraking” campaign place the observatory in the right position to hunt for methane, an indicator of potential biological activity.
Currently setting over four hours after the Sun as seen from the heart of the UK and visible in the west-southwest at dusk, dazzling Venus is about to hit peak brightness in the constellation of Pisces. The planet attains magnitude -4.8 on Friday 17 February — some 21 times the luminosity of brightest star Sirius gracing the southeast horizon as darkness falls.