All posts by Tom

Perseverance Valley on Mars

Perseverance Valley on Mars as seen from the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity! I can hardly believe the rover has been on Mars for a bit over 11 years landing in January 2004 and it is still delivering science. Amazing.


This late-afternoon view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows a pattern of rock stripes on the ground, a surprise to scientists on the rover team. Approaching the 5,000th Martian day or sol, of what was planned as a 90-sol mission, Opportunity is still providing new discoveries.

This image was taken inside “Perseverance Valley,” on the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, on Sol 4958 (Jan. 4, 2018). Both this view and one taken the same sol by the rover’s Navigation Camera look downhill toward the northeast from about one-third of the way down the valley, which extends about the length of two football fields from the crest of the rim toward the crater floor.

The lighting, with the Sun at a low angle, emphasizes the ground texture, shaped into stripes defined by rock fragments. The stripes are aligned with the downhill direction. The rock to the upper right of the rover’s robotic arm is about 2 inches (5 centimeters) wide and about 3 feet (1 meter) from the centerline of the rover’s two front wheels.

This striped pattern resembles features seen on Earth, including on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, that are formed by cycles of freezing and thawing of ground moistened by melting ice or snow. There, fine-grained fraction of the soil expands as it freezes, and this lifts the rock fragments up and to the sides. If such a process formed this pattern in Perseverance Valley, those conditions might have been present locally during a period within the past few million years when Mars’ spin axis was at a greater tilt than it is now, and some of the water ice now at the poles was redistributed to lower latitudes. Other hypotheses for how these features formed are also under consideration, including high-velocity slope winds.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For more information about Opportunity, Visit and

Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech


InSight A Few Final Tests

That worked well from a few feet away, hopefully it will work as well as 148.1 million km / 92,000,000 miles away.

Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) or Insight is a lander rather than a rover.

The two main instruments are:

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), provided by the French Space Agency (CNES) with the participation of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), Imperial College and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), provided by the German pace Agency (DLR). In addition, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), led by JPL, will use the spacecraft communication
system to provide precise measurements of planetary rotation. This instrumentation will be carried by the proven Phoenix Lander, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, providing low-cost, low-risk access to the surface of Mars. — InSight Fact Sheet (pdf).

Launch is scheduled for May 2018 and landing in late November 2018.

NASA – While in the landed configuration for the last time before arriving on Mars, NASA’s InSight lander was commanded to deploy its solar arrays to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of the Red Planet. During the test on Jan. 23, 2018, from the Lockheed Martin clean room in Littleton, Colorado, engineers and technicians evaluated that the solar arrays fully deployed and conducted an illumination test to confirm that the solar cells were collecting power. The fan-like solar panels are specially designed for Mars’ weak sunlight, caused by the planet’s distance from the Sun and its dusty, thin atmosphere. The panels will power InSight for at least one Martian year (two Earth years) for the first mission dedicated to studying Mars’ deep interior.

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle and core. Studying Mars’ interior structure may answer key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also will measure tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.

InSight is scheduled to launch in May 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin Space

The Diamond Ring

ESA brings us this wonderful image of a solar diamond ring for Valentine’s Day. This one is from the Solar Eclipse of 21 August 2017 photographed by during an eclipse expedition to the USA as part of ESA’s CESAR (Cooperation through Education in Science and Astronomy Research) educational initiative. CESAR engages students in the wonders of science and technology – astronomy in particular.

As it happens there will be a solar eclipse tomorrow. This eclipse will be visible to most of Antarctica and southern regions of Chile and Argentina, I know we have readers from the very south of Argentina so here is a map showing when and approximately what you will see.

The map and more information from Wikipedia here.

Progress MS-08 Launch – Replay

The replay above from Space Videos.

So the Progress MS-08 cargo spaceship is on the way to the International Space Station loaded with 1,390 kg / 3,064 lbs of food and supplies including propellant to maneuver the station.

The delay means the cargo spaceship won’t dock until Thursday so we could get a chance to see the pair fly overhead.

Check: Heaven’s Above, N2YO, or SpaceWeather to flyby information.

Launch time: 08:58:45 GMT / 03:58:45 EST / 14:58:45 p.m. Baikonur time

I will start this early so you will see NASA TV until launch time, time well spent.

Replays when available.

Mother of Hubble

Mother of Hubble, the telescope not Edwin.

In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science which was yesterday this video looks at one of the pioneers in the field and the first Chief of Astronomy at NASA, Nancy Grace Roman.

We need more like her! I am pleased we have many women in the field and I hope to see many more in the future.


The launch of the Russian cargo mission to the International Space Station has been scrubbed for today.

The launch was scheduled for 08:58 UTC / 03:58 EST or 14:58 local time at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan has been scrubbed.

The cause for the delay is not readily available and an alternate launch date/time is “under review”. I don’t imagine it will be very long.

If you are following the SpaceX Tesla Roadster and Starman you might be interested to know that Stellarium can follow them too.

To make sure it is added, open the Stellarium, Open the configuration options (F2), select the Plug-in’s tab, choose Satellites (on the left) and then click the configure button on the bottom.

Then go to the Satellite tab and on the left side you will see a button that says “all” and under that is a box you can type in (you will see a list below the box) type TESLA ROADSTER and you will see it pop up on the list and you should be good to go.

It might seem complicated to do, but it’s really pretty easy. I want to capture the orbital diagram from above, I just need to remember how to do it. Maybe I cannot, I’ll keep trying.

February Skies

The thumbnail reminded me Valentines Day is coming up. If you are inclined to participate in the spirit of the day and have not made plans, you’d better hurry otherwise you will be in the same boat as I am.

Sentinel-3B Nears Completion

Sentinel-3B being readied for a launch hopefully in early April 2018.

ESA – The Copernicus Sentinel-3B satellite at Thales Alenia Space’s premises in Cannes, France. Carrying a suite of cutting-edge instruments, the Sentinel-3 satellites have been designed to measure Earth’s oceans, land, ice and atmosphere to monitor and understand large-scale global dynamics. The mission also provides essential information in near-real time for ocean and weather forecasting.

Image: ©ESA–S. Corvaja