It is a busy time for Mars at the moment.
This month the Red Planet entered its new year, what is known as Year 36, and it has not long been overtaken by Earth in its orbit of the Sun.
The distance between Earth and Mars constantly changes because of their different speeds around the Sun, therefore the optimum launch window for missions is just once every 26 months when the planets come closest together.
Many are anticipating the touchdown of Nasa’s Perseverance rover – the most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to land on a planet – on 18 February.
However, the Red Planet is already being closely observed.
Since its launch in 2016 and its subsequent orbit insertion around Mars, an instrument named the Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) has been used to enhance scientists’ knowledge of the planet’s surface.
The camera is travelling with the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is studying methane and other rare gases in the Martian atmosphere.
The technical goal of CaSSIS is to look at potential landing sites for future missions – one being Esa’s Exomars mission that is due to launch in 2022.
However, as part of its scientific activities, it has also observed a variety of minerals, canyons, craters and other geological features on the surface.
The images, which have been published on Instagram, also show frost deposits and dust storms.
Prof Nicolas Thomas, from Oswestry in Shropshire, built the high-resolution instrument and leads the project at the University of Bern, Switzerland, which has now taken more than 20,000 images of Mars.
“There are things that we already know about, but we have got lots more information by using CaSSIS.
“The ability of CaSSIS to see sedimentary layering in some areas is very interesting,” he told BBC News.
“The other thing I like is we have seen remarkable numerous dust devil tracks on the surface on Mars.
“It stands out in a way that it has never done when we used other instruments.”
Over the past few months, CaSSIS has been taking up to 300 images per week.
The instrument has a strong colour capability so the team combines its findings with those of Nasa’s ultra-high resolution imaging system, HiRISE, which flies on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
“We are very much working together right now in the scientific field,” Prof Thomas said.
An area of the Red Planet CaSSIS has photographed is a region near Sisyphi Tholus, where frost deposits have been documented.
At high latitudes, carbon dioxide ice and frost develop, which can be seen with the cracks in the terrain.
How does CaSSIS work?
The team selects specific targets from a database before capturing them.
CaSSIS flies over the surface at about 3km/s, so the images have to be taken very quickly. The exposure time for the images is only 1.5ms.
“We get around 4.5m per pixel on the surface from a distance of about 400 km – so it is a little looking at a bus in London from Liverpool,” Prof Thomas explains.
The camera uses false-colour imagery to enrich its findings.
The colours differ from how they would appear to the human eye, but it helps the CaSSIS team search for different minerals that reflect sunlight in different colours.
“We wanted CaSSIS to do science so we decided not to put simple red, green and blue colours into the camera system, but optimise the colours for science return,” Prof Thomas added.
One of the sites the CaSSIS team has looked at is the Jezero Crater.
This is where Nasa’s Perseverance rover is due to land next week before it starts its search for evidence of past life on the planet.
Prof Thomas said the team typically has four to six opportunities per year to take pictures of sites like Jezero.
Five days after the expected touchdown of Perseverance, CaSSIS hopes to capture its parachute and heat-shield discarded during the landing.
“We’ve got permission, so if it touches down successfully on the surface then all is good and we should see its heat-shield.
“However, if it lands upside down or in a wrong place somehow, then we will help search for it,” Prof Thomas added.
The camera will continue orbiting and is scheduled to assist ExoMars with its mission in 2022.
Prof Thomas is hoping the project will run until at least 2025.
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The Greek woman who … went to Mars reveals: "We have seen pictures from another world!" – Aviation Analysis Wing
“We simply knew it at the time. I’m really excited!” We saw the pictures come back from another world. ”With these words, Eleni Ravani, the Greek researcher who participated in NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, describes to NEA for the seconds The historical record in which the robotic probe safely touched the Earth of the Red Planet.The spacecraft had already traveled 471 million kilometers in six and a half months, aiming to discover traces of ancient life on Mars. ”The Greek researcher, who was in“ contact ”with it in the past, explains: Mankind is now from the conquest of the Red Planet “: As a planetary researcher and doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii, she worked for several months in” perseverance, “but before that he worked for two years in Spain on the ESA’s Mars Express mission.
“The Perseverance spacecraft that landed last Thursday will look for signs of ancient life on Mars,” he told NEA, explaining the mission’s scientific forecast. This is the first part of a series of missions by NASA and the European Space Agency that will collect samples from the surface of Mars and transport them to Earth. Ms Ravani said: “What is particularly important in this case is where the spacecraft landed: This is the Jezero crater, which is It is believed that it was once a lake in which life could live. Perseverance is the most technologically advanced space device in history. It is like a car that has many new scientific-technological tools attached to it. One of them is the Mastcam-Z, also on the team I’m part of, that can take enlarged images of the Martian surface. Among other things, it also has a MEDA weather station. The car will take many pictures and take measurements using these special tools, in order to learn more about the region and help us better understand what is happening on Mars. “
People are on Mars
But how far are we from human exploration of the planet? Humans have been walking on Mars for several years. However, “March 2020” brings us one step closer to that, the researcher said, “because one of the main goals of the mission is to help us prepare for this human exploration.”
I’ll explain to you in two examples what this means: We have an experiment called “MOXIE”, which is going to collect carbon dioxide from the red planet’s atmosphere and convert it into oxygen. This kind of technology could one day be used by humans. Also from the MEDA data, which I mentioned above, we will study how atmospheric dust could affect future technology on Mars, that is, human life support systems. The samples that we will get from the planet will also be based on some new technologies necessary for the safe passage of people to Mars and for their return. “
According to Ms. Ravani, the first part of the mission is expected to last … a Martian year, equivalent to about two years on Earth, “but if the spacecraft remains thriving, it may continue to operate for many years, as it did with the Curiosity rover.”
Tasks like these require, after all, long intense work. “I have been working on the project for a few months, but some of my colleagues have been working on the mission for many years. At the moment of their successful joining, I felt very happy for them too,” adds the Greek researcher. “Now we have a new future ahead. The information that we will gather will help us better understand not only the past of Mars but also our past, that is, the past of the Earth. We hope to answer the question: Was life created on Mars before?” And through this, to prepare our next step. We have already started. Scientific discussions with researchers from all over the world about the data we are receiving and this is exciting. I look forward to the rover moving to the surface and pulling more material. Of course to bring the samples that it will collect back to Earth, because after that the mission “Mars 2020 will be successful.” Oh really”.
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NASA’s new rover to pave way for manned Mars missions, says Skoltech scientist – TASS
MOSCOW, February 19. /TASS/. The experiments that NASA’s Perseverance rover will conduct on Mars will pave the way for a human landing on the Red Planet, Director of the Skoltech Space Center Anton Ivanov told TASS on Friday.
“The Perseverance rover will carry out experiments that are crucial for testing ideas related to resource extraction and future Mars missions. In general, the rover’s research program will help pave the way for a human landing on Mars and get a better understanding on whether life could have ever developed there,” the researcher pointed out.
The United States’ Perseverance rover touched down on Mars in Jezero Crater overnight into Friday and sent several images of the Red Planet to Earth. The main goals of the mission are to figure out if the planet used to be habitable in the past and search for traces of life.
From a technical standpoint, Perseverance is almost entirely similar to NASA’s previous car-sized Mars rover named Curiosity. However, the new vehicle isn’t equipped with a device similar to Russia’s DAN spectrometer, which was installed on Curiosity and played a crucial role in finding traces of water in Gale Crater. According to Ivanov, the absence of such a device will affect the rover’s activities but won’t hinder efforts to find signs of previous life on Martian soil.
“The Russian device installed on Curiosity collected a large amount of data that our researchers are now analyzing. Perseverance carries a ground-penetrating radar that will make it possible to define soil stratigraphy to a depth of up to ten meters,” the Russian scientist emphasized.
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