After arriving at Jezero Crater on Mars, Perseverance went for a spin on March 4. This sharp image from the car-sized rover’s Navcam shows tracks left by its wheels in the martian soil. In preparation for operations on the surface of the Red Planet, its first drive lasted about 33 minutes. On a short and successful test drive Perseverance moved forward 4 meters, made a 150 degree turn, backed up for 2.5 meters, and now occupies a different parking space at its newly christened Octavia E. Butler Landing location. Though the total travel distance of the rover’s first outing was about 6.5 meters (21 feet), regular commutes of 200 meters or more can be expected in the future.
The surface of this planet looks a little like Mars. It’s really planet Earth though. In a digitally stitched little planet projection, the 360 degree mosaic was captured near San Pedro in the Chilean Atacama desert. Telescopes in domes on the horizon are taking advantage of the region’s famously dark, clear nights. Taken in early December, a magnificent Milky Way arcs above the horizon for almost 180 degrees around the little planet with Orion prominent in the southern sky. A familiar constellation upside down for northern hemisphere skygazers, Orion shares that southern December night almost opposite the Large and Small Magellanic clouds. But the Red Planet itself is the brightest yellowish celestial beacon in this little planet sky.
You can spot Mars in the evening sky tonight. Now home to the Perseverance rover, the Red Planet is presently wandering through the constellation Taurus, close on the sky to the Seven Sisters or Pleiades star cluster. In fact this deep, widefield view of the region captures Mars near its closest conjunction to the Pleiades on March 3. Below center, Mars is the bright yellowish celestial beacon only about 3 degrees from the pretty blue star cluster. Competing with Mars in color and brightness, Aldebaran is the alpha star of Taurus. The red giant star is toward the lower left edge of the frame, a foreground star along the line-of-sight to the more distant Hyades star cluster. Otherwise too faint for your eye to see, the dark, dusty nebulae lie along the edge of the massive Perseus molecular cloud, with the striking reddish glow of NGC 1499, the California Nebula, at the upper right.
Mt. Etna has been erupting for hundreds of thousands of years. Located in Sicily, Italy, the volcano produces lava fountains over one kilometer high. Mt. Etna is not only one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, it is one of the largest, measuring over 50 kilometers at its base and rising nearly 3 kilometers high. Pictured erupting last month, a lava plume shoots upwards, while hot lava flows down the volcano’s exterior. Likely satellite trails appear above, while ancient stars dot the sky far in the distance. This volcanic eruption was so strong that nearby airports were closed to keep planes from flying through the dangerous plume. The image foreground and background were captured consecutively by the same camera and from the same location.
What if you could fly around Mars? NASA may have achieved that capability last month with the landing of Perseverance, a rover which included a small flight-worthy companion called Ingenuity, nicknamed Ginny. Even though Ginny is small — a toaster-sized helicopter with four long legs and two even-longer (1.2-meter) rotors, she is the first of her kind — there has never been anything like her before. After being deployed, possibly in April, the car-sized Perseverance (“Percy”) will back away to give Ginny ample room to attempt her unprecedented first flight. In the featured artistic illustration, Ginny’s long rotors are depicted giving her the lift she needs to fly into the thin Martian atmosphere and explore the area near Perseverance. Although Ingenuity herself will not fly very far, she is a prototype for all future airborne Solar-System robots that may fly far across not only Mars, but Titan.
The Pelican Nebula is changing. The entire nebula, officially designated IC 5070, is divided from the larger North America Nebula by a molecular cloud filled with dark dust. The Pelican, however, is particularly interesting because it is an unusually active mix of star formation and evolving gas clouds. The featured picture was processed to bring out two main colors, red and blue, with the red dominated by light emitted by interstellar hydrogen. Ultraviolet light emitted by young energetic stars is slowly transforming cold gas in the nebula to hot gas, with the advancing boundary between the two, known as an ionization front, visible in bright red across the image center. Particularly dense tentacles of cold gas remain. Millions of years from now this nebula might no longer be known as the Pelican, as the balance and placement of stars and gas will surely leave something that appears completely different.
Yes, but can your tree do this? Pictured is a visual coincidence between the dark branches of a nearby tree and bright glow of a distant aurora. The beauty of the aurora — combined with how it seemed to mimic a tree right nearby — mesmerized the photographer to such a degree that he momentarily forgot to take pictures. When viewed at the right angle, it seemed that this tree had aurora for leaves. Fortunately, before the aurora morphed into a different overall shape, he came to his senses and capture the awe-inspiring momentary coincidence. Typically triggered by solar explosions, aurora are caused by high energy electrons impacting the Earth’s atmosphere around 150 kilometers up. The unusual Earth-sky collaboration was witnessed in March of 2017 in Iceland.
Seen from orbit a day after a dramatic arrival on the martian surface, the Perseverance landing site is identified in this high-resolution view from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The orbiter’s camera image also reveals the location of the Mars 2020 mission descent stage, heat shield, and parachute and back shell that delivered Perseverance to the surface of Mars. Each annotated inset box spans 200 meters (650 feet) across the floor of Jezero Crater. Perseverance is located at the center of the pattern created by rocket exhaust as the descent stage hovered and lowered the rover to the surface. Following the sky crane maneuver, the descent stage itself flew away to crash at a safe distance from the rover, its final resting place indicated by a dark V-shaped debris pattern. Falling to the surface nearby after their separation in the landing sequence, heat shield, parachute and back shell locations are marked in the high-resolution image from Mars orbit.
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.
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.