Picture This

First aerial colour photo of Mars rover’s “hole-in-one” landing site

3 May 2017 Stephen Clark

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.

Picture This

A Martian mesa in a sea of sand dunes

14 April 2017 Astronomy Now

This image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a small (0.4 kilometre) mesa, one of several surrounded by sand dunes in Noctis Labyrinthyus, an extensively fractured region on the western end of Valles Marineris.

News

InSight lander’s troubled seismometer passes major test

3 April 2017 Stephen Clark

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.

News

Curiosity rover shows new signs of wheel wear

2 April 2017 Stephen Clark

Engineers have spotted two small breaks in the treading on the left middle wheel on NASA’s Curiosity rover, one of six wheels that have moved the robot nearly 16 kilometres (10 miles) across the Martian surface since landing in August 2012.

Observing

See Mercury at its best in the evening sky

26 March 2017 Ade Ashford

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.

News

Europe’s ExoMars spacecraft begins lowering its orbit

20 March 2017 Stephen Clark

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.