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NASA is about to send the ultimate valentine to Mars with Perseverance rover landing

NASA is about to send the ultimate valentine to Mars with Perseverance rover landing By Elizabeth Howell

Artist’s illustration of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission approaching the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has a very special Valentine’s Day delivery en route to the Red Planet — one that could deliver presents to us in person, in a few years.

About once every decade, the agency sends out a seminal Mars landing mission to learn more about our potentially habitable neighbor. Its latest effort is the powerful Perseverance rover, ready for touchdown on Thursday, Feb. 18. (Bonus Valentine for you: You can watch the landing live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, and participate in a virtual NASA Social event as well.)

Perseverance has a unique role from every Martian mission before it. This Mars rover will wrap presents for delivery back to Earth — that would be, cached samples of rocks showing promising signs of habitability on Mars. Once NASA and the European Space Agency are ready, the two agencies plan to deliver the rover’s precious rocky gifts back to us in about a decade, as part of a larger Mars sample-return mission.

Long-distance messages will flow back to us from the surface, however, as soon as the daring “seven minutes of terror”-type landing completes. If all goes to plan, Perseverance will begin deploying its instruments quickly to scan the environment with high-definition cameras, lasers, microphones and scientific equipment, and it will radio what it finds back to Earth. Evidence of water activity and organic molecules at the landing site, in Jezero Crater, could be in scientists’ inboxes in a few more weeks or months.

A bonus gift from Perseverance’s mission will be the Ingenuity helicopter, a little test vehicle that will show us whether flight is possible on Mars given our current understanding of its thin atmosphere. Ingenuity could show us the path for future drones to scout ahead on landing missions, and to assist robots and humans alike by patrolling difficult-to-climb environments.

Perseverance’s landing follows on from NASA’s big Curiosity rover landing in 2012 — that rover is still running while picking up further evidence of organics and molecules on Mount Sharp — and the two seminal Mars Exploration Rovers (Opportunity and Spirit) that outlasted their 90-day warranties for many years after landing on Mars in 2004. 

Happily, smaller Mars mission landings are fairly frequent, and other spacecraft have popped safely on the surface in between the big missions; the last successful one was the still-active InSight Mars lander in 2018. We also can’t forget that Perseverance’s entry comes days after two other countries safely arrived at Mars: the Emirati Hope orbiter and the Chinese lander-orbiter-rover trio that makes up the Tianwen-1 mission.

You can celebrate the special Valentine’s Day-era Perseverance mission safely and social distance-style at various cities in the United States, who will light their buildings red to celebrate the Red Planet landing, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.https://5973bcc6a46bc1dab299f4fc9aec6d88.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

  • The Empire State Building in New York City plans to light the tower red between sunset Tuesday, Feb. 16 and 2 a.m. EST the following morning (Wednesday, Feb. 17).
  • The Los Angeles International Airport gateway pylons will glow red from sundown Wednesday (Feb. 17) through sunrise Friday (Feb. 19). JPL, where rover operations are centered, is located in nearby Pasadena.
  • Residents of downtown Chicago should see the Adler Planetarium lighting up, along with other downtown buildings. (No exact timing was available in JPL’s release.)

NASA added that cities around the country and the world should feel free to light their own town red if they want.

You can find out how to virtually join the Perseverance Mars rover landing by signing up for NASA’s social media event here. NASA also has a “virtual guest experience” available for the public to participate in as well.

Visit Space.com Thursday for complete coverage of the Perseverance Mars rover’s landing on the Red Planet.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission snaps its 1st photo of Red Planet

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission snaps its 1st photo of Red Planet By Andrew Jones via Space.com

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft snapped its first image of Mars as the mission makes its final approach; the probe will enter orbit around the Red Planet in less than a week.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released the image Feb. 5, demonstrating that the powerful, high-resolution camera on the Tianwen-1 spacecraft is working properly.

The greyscale image was captured at a distance of 1.36 million miles (2.2 million kilometers) from Mars, according to CNSA.

A supplemental image indicating notable features in the Tianwen-1 image of Mars.  (Image credit: CNSA/PEC (Planetary Exploration of China))

A labeled version of the image indicates the location of notable features on display, namely Acidalia Planitia (1), Chryse Planitia (2), Meridiani Planum (3), Schiaparelli Crater (4) and Valles Marineris (5).

Tianwen-1, a combined orbiter and rover, has since closed in on the Red Planet and was 683,000 miles (1.1 million km) away on Friday. The spacecraft is expected to enter Mars orbit on Wednesday (Feb. 10). The five-ton spacecraft will burn of its engines to slow the vehicle down enough to be captured by Mars’ gravitational pull. 

CNSA also stated that Tianwen-1 completed a fourth trajectory correction maneuver Feb. 5 at 7 a.m. EST (1200 GMT, 8 p.m. Beijing time) to ensure the spacecraft is on course for entering Mars orbit.

The spacecraft has traveled 289 million miles (465 million km) during its 197 days in space and was about 114 million miles (184 million km) from Earth at the time of the trajectory correction maneuver. All of the spacecraft’s systems are in good working condition, CNSA said.

The great distance between Earth and Tianwen-1 means a communications delay of around 10 minutes. This means the spacecraft will need to carry out commands to start the braking burn by itself, with instructions sent in advance from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

The first image of Mars returned by China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft. (Image credit: CNSA/PEC (Planetary Exploration of China))

After entering orbit, Tianwen-1 will begin to prepare for a landing attempt of the mission’s rover. The orbiter will begin imaging the main candidate landing site within the huge impact basin Utopia Planitia, to the south of NASA’s Viking 2 landing site, ready for a landing attempt around May.

China is currently holding a 40-day public vote to select the name for its Mars rover. The three most popular names will be sent to a committee for the final choice.

If the roughly 530-lb. (240 kilograms) solar-powered rover lands safely, it will investigate the surface soil characteristics and potential water-ice distribution with its Subsurface Exploration Radar instrument. The rover also carries panoramic and multispectral cameras and instruments to analyze the composition of rocks.

Meanwhile, the Tianwen-1 orbiter will study the Red Planet’s surface with medium- and high-resolution cameras and a sounding radar, and make other detections with a magnetometer and particle detectors.

Tianwen-1 launched in July and will arrive at Mars a day after the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission and a week before NASA’s Perseverance rover.

UAE’s Hope Probe enters orbit in first Arab Mars mission

UAE’s Hope Probe enters orbit in first Arab Mars mission by Lisa Barrington via DUBAI (Reuters)

The United Arab Emirates’ first mission to Mars reached the red planet and entered orbit on Tuesday after a seven-month, 494 million-km (307 million-mile) journey, allowing it to start sending data about the Martian atmosphere and climate.

The Mars programme is part of the UAE’s efforts to develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil. The UAE Space Agency, the fifth globally to reach the planet, even has a plan for a Mars settlement by 2117.

“Contact with #HopeProbe has been established again. The Mars Orbit Insertion is now complete,” said the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, where the ruler of Dubai and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi were present to receive the news.ADVERTISEMENThttps://95ccbcf9569022762fd02a6ae3b61408.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

The attempt had a 50% chance of failing, Dubai’s ruler and UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had said. To enter Mars’ orbit, the probe needed to burn around half its 800 kg (1,760 lbs) of onboard fuel to slow down enough not to overshoot, the most dangerous part of the journey.

“Today is the start of a new chapter in Arab history … of trust in our capability to compete with other nations and people,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted after the probe entered orbit. “The UAE will celebrate its Golden Jubilee with science, culture and inspiration because we aim to build a model of development.”

This year marks 50 years since independence from Britain and the founding of the UAE federation, which groups seven emirates, including Dubai. Mars probes launched by China and NASA just after the UAE’s lift-off in July are also set to reach the planet this month.

Watch for Venus, Antares and the moon before sunup January 9, 10 and 11

Watch for Venus, Antares and the moon before sunup January 9, 10 and 11 by Deborah Byrd via TONIGHT 

Moon swings by the star Antares and the dazzling planet Venus in the January 2021 morning sky.
  • Jan 08 – Jan 14

On the mornings of January 9, 10 and 11, 2021, you can watch as the waning crescent moon sweeps past a bright star – Antares in the constellation Scorpius – and an even brighter planet, Venus. Look east before the sun comes up. You can’t miss them if your sky is clear.https://7f10bed39a779fa8b93e862cc65e61c2.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

EarthSky’s lunar calendar shows the moon phase for every day in 2021. Order yours before they’re gone!

Antares is a red star and represents the Scorpion’s Heart. We in the Northern Hemisphere consider it a summer star, because it’s visible on summer evenings. But it’s up before the sun on cold northern winter mornings. Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere can see this star even better than we in the north. From there, it make a grand high arc across the sky. For a specific view of Antares, the moon and Venus on these January mornings, from your location on the globe, try Stellarium.

If you contrast the star Antares with the planet Venus, you’ll find that Antares twinkles fiercely, while Venus shines more steadily. But Venus might be twinkling a bit now, too, because it’s getting so low in the sky before the sun comes up. Venus is much closer to the sun on our sky’s dome than it was a few months ago. And it’s not going to get any higher in the predawn sky between now and sometime in February, when it’ll disappear into the sun’s glare.

You Can Catch Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury Taking Over the Night Sky This Weekend

You Can Catch Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury Taking Over the Night Sky This Weekend

This rare triple planet conjunction will form a triangle. By Nashia Baker

planets aligning in the solar system

CREDIT: DA-KUK / GETTY IMAGES

Odds are that when you gaze at the night sky, you’re looking up to see the stars. But if you peer out this weekend, you’ll likely see something more unexpected: a triple conjunction of planets. According to Good News Network, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury will come together to form a triangle on January 10. As for the best time to spot this phenomenon? You can catch the planets arranging into the triangle shape 45 minutes after sunset as you look at the southwest horizon.

While it’s recommended to grab a pair of binoculars if you’d like to clearly see the three planets, which will be just about one-and-a-half degrees apart, you will also notice them by their brightness. Space notes that Mercury will seem two-and-a-half times dimmer than Jupiter, but the planet will be four times brighter than Saturn.

This isn’t the only planet-related news to kick off the new year. You may have noticed that your days seem to be flying by faster than usual. There’s a good reason why: The Earth is spinning faster than it has in 50 years—meaning your days are less than 24 hours. Daily Mail reported that this all started last year on July 19. Scientists recorded this as the shortest day—measured at 1.4602 milliseconds shorter than 24 hours—since they began analyzing days in the 1960s.

Science Advances study from 2015 claims that shorter days are a result of global warming. When glaciers melt, the world shifts and begins spinning faster on its axis. Today, scientists say our days are 0.5 seconds shorter than 24 hours. The result? Researchers believe the use of leap seconds (extra seconds that allow satellites to align with the positions of the stars, moon, and the sun) is necessary. “It’s quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth’s rotation rate increases further, but it’s too early to say if this is likely to happen,” says Peter Whibberley, senior research scientist with National Physical Laboratory’s time and frequency group.

2021 meteor shower lineup, when to plan your own ‘star party’

milky way over dune climbThe Milky Way as seen over the Sleeping Bear Dunes famous Dune Climb. | Photo via National Park ServiceBy Tanda Gmiter | tgmiter@mlive.com

For many of us, the last year has pushed us to develop some hobbies that revolve around the outdoors – or at least our own backyards. Skywatching has grown in popularity and our fascination with what’s overhead is not likely to ebb as we head into 2021.

With that in mind, why not keep track of our upcoming lineup of meteor showers so you can create your own star party? It’s simple enough. A few lawn chairs, an old blanket laid out on the lawn, or get fancy and blow up an air mattress or two and drag them outside. Add some snacks and beverages, and throw in some sleeping bags if you’ll be staying up late.https://4ae564fe8d6c2b5e785d2f4ee92fd1bc.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

To help you plan ahead, here’s a list of some of the best meteor showers on our calendar this year, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and EarthSky.com.

While the first meteor shower of the year is expected to peak this weekend, Michigan skies likely will remain cloudy for this one in most areas.

  • Quadrantids, Dec. 27, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021 (peak estimated for Jan. 2-3)
  • Lyrids, April 16-30 (peak estimated for April 21-22)
  • Eta Aquariids, April 19-May 28 (peak estimated for May 4-5)
  • Southern delta Aquariids, July 12-Aug. 23 (peak estimated for July 28-29)
  • Alpha Capricornids, July 3-Aug. 15 (peak estimated for July 28-29)
  • The Perseid meteor shower. This is one of the biggest astronomical events of the year, taking place each August. The showers are expected to take place Aug. 8-14 (peak viewing is estimated for Thursday, Aug. 12)
  • The Draconids, Oct. 8
  • The Orionids, Oct. 21, best viewing is just before dawn
  • The South Taurids, peaks late night Nov. 4 until dawn Nov. 5
  • The North Taurids, peaks late night Nov. 11 until dawn Nov. 12
  • The Leonids, peaks Nov. 17, before dawn
  • The Geminids, peaks Dec. 13-14, mid-evening until dawn
  • The Ursids, peaks Dec. 22, before dawn

Moonlight is expected to put a damper on a few of these showers, including this month’s Quadrantids, the October Orionids and November’s Leonids. But lunar light won’t cause a problem for the August Perseids, October’s Draconids or November’s South Taurids, according to the astronomers at EarthSky.

To have the best chance of seeing a great sky show, make sure you’re watching from somewhere that is away from artificial light. If you live in the city, take your star party on the road. Michigan has dark sky preserves in six state parks, as well as two international dark sky areas, according to the DNR. Here’s a list:

Internationally-designated dark sky parks

The first meteor shower of 2021 will illuminate the night sky on New Year’s weekend

The first meteor shower of 2021 will illuminate the night sky on New Year’s weekend by Sophie Lewis

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About 30 Quadrantid meteors can be counted in this skyscape composed of digital frames recorded in dark and moonless skies between 2:30 a.m. and local dawn.DANIEL LÓPEZ / NASA APOD

Between a once-in-a-lifetime comet and the epic meeting of Jupiter and Saturn for the great conjunction, 2020 was a big year for celestial phenomena. But 2021 is starting off strong with the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower, which NASA calls one of the “best annual meteor showers,” from January 2 into January 3. 

What are the Quadrantids? 

According to NASA, the Quadrantids return each year between December 28 and January 12. First seen in 1825, they originate from the small asteroid 1003 EH1, which was discovered in March 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search. 

The meteors appear to radiate from a constellation that no longer exists, called “Quadrans Muralis,” but that constellation is not the actual source of the meteors. 

“An alternative name for the Quadrantids is the Bootids since the meteors appear to radiate from the modern constellation of Bootes,” NASA says. “Even though the constellation may no longer be recognized, it was considered a constellation long enough to give the meteor shower its name.”

The Quadrantids mark the final meteor shower of the season, ahead of several months with little celestial activity. According to the American Meteor Society, it has the potential to be the strongest shower of the year, along with the Perseids and the Geminids.

During the brief window from Saturday night into Sunday morning, there is a chance to spot between 60 to 200 meteors per hour traveling at 25.5 miles per second. Quadrantids are known for bright fireball meteors, which are larger explosions of light and color that last longer than the typical meteor streak. 

Despite the shower’s potential, it will be brief: the window of maximum activity is just six hours. 

“The reason the peak is so short is due to the shower’s thin stream of particles and the fact that the Earth crosses the stream at a perpendicular angle,” NASA says.

How to watch the Quadrantid meteor shower 

The Quadrantids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, but poor weather conditions in early January also make viewing more difficult. Even if the skies are clear of clouds, a nearly full waning gibbous moon will continue to shine brightly throughout the weekend, making meteor-spotting tricky. 

Unlike many other popular meteor showers, which peak over several nights, timing your viewing of the Quadrantids is essential to spotting meteors. According to the International Meteor Organization, the peak is expected to occur around 14:30 UTC on Sunday — meaning the best chance to view the shower in North America will be in the predawn hours of Sunday morning.

Like all meteor showers, you will want to get away from all bright city lights for best viewing, lying flat on your back and giving your eyes about 30 minutes to adjust to the dark. Dress for winter weather and be patient — the show will last until dawn. 

After the Quadrantids, another meteor shower won’t occur for more than three months, when the Lyrids and the Eta Aquariids return at the end of April.