Mars Perseverance Sol 3

Stitched together on planet Earth, 142 separate images make up this 360 degree panorama from the floor of Jezero Crater on Mars. The high-resolution color images were taken by the Perseverance rover’s zoomable Mastcam-Z during mission sol 3, also known as February 21, 2021. In the foreground of Mastcam-Z’s view is the car-sized rover’s deck. Broad light-colored patches in the martian soil just beyond it were scoured by descent stage rocket engines during the rover’s dramatic arrival on February 18. The rim of 45 kilometer-wide Jezero Crater rises in the distance. In the coming sols, Perseverance will explore the ancient lake-delta system in the crater, hunting for signs of past microscopic life and collecting samples for potential future return to planet Earth. [via NASA]

A Venus Flyby

On a mission to explore the inner heliosphere and solar corona, on July 11, 2020 the Wide-field Imager on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured this stunning view of the nightside of Venus at distance of about 12,400 kilometers (7,693 miles). The spacecraft was making the third of seven gravity-assist flybys of the inner planet. The gravity-asssist flybys are designed to use the approach to Venus to help the probe alter its orbit to ultimately come within 6 million kilometers (4 million miles) of the solar surface in late 2025. A surprising image, the side-looking camera seems to peer through the clouds to show a dark feature near the center known as Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. The bright rim at the edge of the planet is nightglow likely emitted by excited oxygen atoms recombining into molecules in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Bright streaks and blemishes throughout the image are likely due to energetic charged particles, and dust near the camera reflecting sunlight. Skygazers from planet Earth probably recognize the familiar stars of Orion’s belt and sword at lower right. [via NASA]

Spiral Galaxy M66 from Hubble

It’s always nice to get a new view of an old friend. This stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of nearby spiral galaxy M66 is just that. A spiral galaxy with a small central bar, M66 is a member of the Leo Galaxy Triplet, a group of three galaxies about 30 million light years from us. The Leo Triplet is a popular target for relatively small telescopes, in part because M66 and its galactic companions M65 and NGC 3628 all appear separated by about the angular width of a full moon. The featured image of M66 was taken by Hubble to help investigate the connection between star formation and molecular gas clouds. Clearly visible are bright blue stars, pink ionized hydrogen clouds — sprinkled all along the outer spiral arms, and dark dust lanes in which more star formation could be hiding. [via NASA]

Video: Perseverance Landing on Mars

What would it look like to land on Mars? To better monitor the instruments involved in the Entry, Decent, and Landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars last week, cameras with video capability were included that have now returned their images. The featured 3.5-minute composite video begins with the opening of a huge parachute that dramatically slows the speeding spacecraft as it enters the Martian atmosphere. Next the heat shield is seen separating and falls ahead. As Perseverance descends, Mars looms large and its surface becomes increasingly detailed. At just past 2-minutes into the video, the parachute is released and Perseverance begins to land with dust-scattering rockets. Soon the Sky Crane takes over and puts Perseverance down softly, then quickly jetting away. The robotic Perseverance rover will now begin exploring ancient Jezero Crater, including a search for signs that life once existed on Earth’s neighboring planet. [via NASA]

Moon Rising Between Starships

What’s that on either side of the Moon? Starships. Specifically, they are launch-and-return reusable rockets being developed by SpaceX to lift cargo and eventually humans from the Earth’s surface into space. The two rockets pictured are SN9 (Serial Number 9) and SN10 which were captured near their Boca Chica, Texas launchpad last month posing below January’s full Wolf Moon. The Starships house liquid-methane engines inside rugged stainless-steel shells. SN9 was test-launched earlier this month and did well with the exception of one internal rocket that failed to relight during powered descent. SN10 continues to undergo ground tests and may be test-launched later this month. [via NASA]

NGC 2244: A Star Cluster in the Rosette Nebula

In the heart of the Rosette Nebula lies a bright open cluster of stars that lights up the nebula. The stars of NGC 2244 formed from the surrounding gas only a few million years ago. The featured image taken in January using multiple exposures and very specific colors of Sulfur (shaded red), Hydrogen (green), and Oxygen (blue), captures the central region in tremendous detail. A hot wind of particles streams away from the cluster stars and contributes to an already complex menagerie of gas and dust filaments while slowly evacuating the cluster center. The Rosette Nebula’s center measures about 50 light-years across, lies about 5,200 light-years away, and is visible with binoculars towards the constellation of the Unicorn (Monoceros). [via NASA]

Perseverance: How to Land on Mars

Slung beneath its rocket powered descent stage Perseverance hangs only a few meters above the martian surface, captured here moments before its February 18 touchdown on the Red Planet. The breath-taking view followed an intense seven minute trip from the top of the martian atmosphere. Part of a high resolution video, the picture was taken from the descent stage itself during the final skycrane landing maneuver. Three taut mechanical cables about 7 meters long are visible lowering Perseverance, along with an electrical umbilical connection feeding signals (like this image), to a computer on board the car-sized rover. Below Perseverance streamers of martian dust are kicked-up from the surface by the descent rocket engines. Immediately after touchdown, the cables were released allowing the descent stage to fly to a safe distance before exhausting its fuel as planned. [via NASA]

Mars Perseverance Sol 0

After a 203 day interplanetary voyage, and seven minutes of terror, Perseverance has landed on Mars. Confirmation of the successful landing at Jezero crater was announced from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 12:55 pm PST on February 18. The car-sized Mars rover’s Front Left Hazard Avoidance Camera acquired this initial low resolution image shortly after touchdown on mission Sol 0. A protective cover is still on the camera, but the shadow of Perseverance, now the most ambitious rover sent to the Red Planet, is visible cast across the martian surface. [via NASA]

Swiss Alps, Martian Sky

Taken on February 6, this snowy mountain and skyscape was captured near Melchsee-Frutt, central Switzerland, planet Earth. The reddish daylight and blue tinted glow around the afternoon Sun are colors of the Martian sky, though. Of course both worlds have the same Sun. From Mars, the Sun looks only about half as bright and 2/3 the size compared to its appearance from Earth. Lofted from the surface of Mars, fine dust particles suspended in the thin Martian atmosphere are rich in the iron oxides that make the Red Planet red. They tend to absorb blue sunlight giving a red tinge to the Martian sky, while forward scattering still makes the light appear relatively bluish near the smaller, fainter Martian Sun. Normally Earth’s denser atmosphere strongly scatters blue light, making the terrestrial sky blue. But on February 6 a huge cloud of dust blown across the Mediterranean from the Sahara desert reached the Swiss Alps, dimming the Sun and lending that Alpine afternoon the colors of the Martian sky. By the next day, only the snow was left covered with reddish dust. [via NASA]

Sun Pillar with Upper Tangent Arc

This was not a typical sun pillar. Just after sunrise two weeks ago in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, a photographer, looking out his window, was suddenly awestruck. The astonishment was caused by a sun pillar that fanned out at the top. Sun pillars, singular columns of light going up from the Sun, are themselves rare to see, and are known to be caused by sunlight reflecting from wobbling, hexagon-shaped ice-disks falling through Earth’s atmosphere. Separately, upper tangent arcs are known to be caused by sunlight refracting through falling hexagon-shaped ice-tubes. Finding a sun pillar connected to an upper tangent arc is extraordinary, and, initially, took some analysis to figure out what was going on. A leading theory is that this sun pillar was also created, in a complex and unusual way, by falling ice tubes. Few might believe that such a rare phenomenon was seen again if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of the photographer — and the camera on his nearby smartphone. [via NASA]