Mars has been growing brighter in the night sky throughout the year so far. On Tuesday night, the planet will be at the brightest we’ve seen it in October in 32 years.
According to NASA, on October 6, 2020, Mars will be 62.1 million kilometres away from Earth. That’s the closest it’s come to us since July and August of 2018, when it reached a distance of 57.6 million km on July 31.
Mars was just 57.6 million km from Earth on July 31, 2018, the closest since 2003. By August 21, 2018, it was farther away than it is now, in October 2020. Credit: NASA/Scott Sutherland
According to NASA, Mars came even closer to Earth in 2003 – 55.7 million km on August 27 – which was the closest the two planets had been in around 60,000 years. Still, by October 2003, the planets had drawn farther away from one another than they are now.
The last time Mars was this bright in our October sky was all the way back in 1988!
How will your skies be for the event, Tuesday night? Watch the video below, which presents the forecast cloud conditions across the country.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
As Earth orbits around the Sun, it follows a slightly elliptical orbit that brings us closest to the Sun (perihelion) in January and farthest (aphelion) in July. On the other hand, Mars traces a wider ellipse, which is nearly oppositely oriented to Earth’s. Its perihelion is close to Earth’s aphelion, and vice versa.
Roughly every two years and two months, Mars and Earth experience an alignment known as Opposition. The two planets line up so that Mars is on the exact opposite side of Earth from the Sun. This year, it occurs on October 13.
Mars closest approach vs Mars conjunction of 2020. Credit: NASA/Scott Sutherland
Right around Mars Opposition, the two planets come close to one another. If this happened every 2 years, precisely, it would occur on the same day. Due to the roughly 2 months ‘extra’ tacked on, this can happen at any time of the year. In fact, there’s a specific cycle where the planets draw closer and closer for subsequent Oppositions, then pull farther and farther away, then draw closer again, and so on.
The closest of these events is always when Mars Opposition occurs in late August – with Earth nearly at its farthest from the Sun, and Mars at its closest to the Sun.
RELATED: THERE ARE EVEN MORE SALTY LAKES ON MARS
BEWARE THE MARS HOAX
An infamous internet hoax tries to claim that Mars and the Moon will look the same size in the sky. Credit: NASA
While watching Mars right now is great, due to the planet’s brightness in our night sky, watch out for a persistent hoax that will try to blow this fact WAY out of proportion.
Every year, a message makes the rounds over social media, with a wild and utterly false claim that the planet Mars will look as big as the Moon in our sky.
Typically, this message targets August 27, but the hoaxers always revive their story by just changing the date.
The plain and straightforward truth is, the planet Mars has never come even close to appearing as big as the Moon in Earth’s skies, and it never will.
The hoax meme’s problem is that it leaves out an essential detail: the only way the Moon and Mars will ever look to be the same size is if you look at the Moon with the naked eye, and Mars through a telescope.
This detail was included in an original 2003 notice to the public, which told of Mars’s closest approach in some 60,000 years, which won’t be repeated until 2287. The hoaxers subsequently left that out important detail when they repeated it in the years after.
How can we be sure it won’t happen?
Firstly, the closest Earth and Mars ever come to each other is 54.6 million kilometres. That’s roughly 142 times farther away than the Moon. So, if Mars was to appear as big as the Moon, from that distance, the planet would need to be 142 times larger than it is, or over three and a half times bigger than Jupiter!
And secondly, With a 6,779 km diameter, Mars is just under twice as big as the Moon (diameter 3,474 km). So, if Mars stayed the same size to look as big as the Moon, it would have to reach a distance of just over twice as far away as the Moon, or around 750,000 km away from Earth. Mars getting that close to Earth is just as impossible as the planet suddenly inflating to 3.5x the Jupiter size!
Some of the newest additions to this hoax try to add a measure of ‘doomsday’ to the meme. Claims of “panic in the scientific community,” due to a previous closest encounter – back in the year 57,617 B.C. – supposedly caused “changes in the earth’s crust and climatic disasters.” But that is all nonsense. Mars cannot have that kind of effect on Earth from over 50 million km away.
The best things to do for this event are to ignore any strange memes or doomsday claims, and as Mars Opposition approaches, get out and take in the Red Planet at its brightest. If you have access to a telescope or binoculars to get a closer look, all the better!
Sources: NASA | With files from The Weather Network.
Thumbnail courtesy: Getty Images
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Russian counterparts return safely to Earth from space station
MOSCOW – A trio of space travelers safely returned to Earth on Thursday after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.
The Soyuz MS-16 capsule carrying NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan at 7:54 a.m. (2:54 GMT) Thursday.
After a brief medical checkup, the three will be taken by helicopters to Dzhezkazgan from where they will depart home.
Cassidy will board a NASA plane back to Houston, while Vagner and Ivanishin will fly home to Star City, Russia.
The crew smiled as they talked to masked members of the recovery team, and NASA and Roscosmos reported that they were in good condition.
As part of additional precautions due to the coronavirus, the rescue team members meeting the crew were tested for the virus and the number of people involved in the recovery effort was limited.
Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner spent 196 days in orbit, having arrived at the station on April 9. They left behind NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’ Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who arrived at the orbiting outpost a week ago for a six-month stay.
Cassidy, returning from his third space mission, has now spent a total of 378 days in space, the fifth highest among U.S. astronauts.
While serving as the station’s commander, Cassidy welcomed SpaceX Demo-2 crew Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first NASA astronauts to launch to the space station on an American spacecraft from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Cassidy and Behnken completed four spacewalks for a total of 23 hours and 37 minutes, becoming two of only four U.S. astronauts to complete 10 spacewalks.
Before the crew’s departure, Russian cosmonauts were able to temporarily seal the air leak they tried to locate for several months. The small leak has posed no immediate danger to the station’s crew, and Roscosmos engineers have been working on a permanent seal.
In November, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet NASA’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission comprising NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Source: – Fox News
NASA successfully tags asteroid Bennu: What you need to know about the mission – CNET
Editors’ note: Osiris-Rex has touched down on Bennu.. Our answers to questions about the mission are below.
major first for NASA and a boon for science, space exploration and our understanding of the solar system.briefly Tuesday to snag some rocks and dust from its surface to be returned to Earth for study. On Wednesday, NASA . The event marks a
The touch-and-go, or TAG, sample collection of asteroid 101955 Bennu was deemed a success at around 3:12 p.m. PT. NASA broadcast the TAG maneuver live on NASA TV and the agency’s website. You can find a video at the end of this piece. For answer to your mission questions, read on.
When did the mission begin?
Osiris-Rex as a concept has been in existence since at least 2004, when a team of astronomers first proposed the idea to NASA. After more than a decade of development, the spacecraft, atop an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The spacecraft spent the next 26 months cruising to Bennu, officially arriving on Dec. 3, 2018.
Since then, the mission team has spent nearly two years orbiting the diamond-shaped space rock, surveying and mapping its surface to select the best sampling spot. In recent months, rehearsals led up to the sample collection attempt.
Bennu is what’s called a “rubble pile” asteroid, meaning it was formed in the deep cosmic past when gravity slowly forced together remnants of an ancient collision. The result is a body shaped something like a spinning top with a diameter of around one-third of a mile (500 meters) and a surface strewn with large rocks and boulders.
Bennu is thought to be a window into the solar system’s past: a pristine, carbon-rich body carrying the building blocks of planets and of life. Some of these resources, such as water and metals, could also be worth mining at some point in the future for use on Earth or in space exploration.
The asteroid has one other characteristic that makes it particularly interesting to scientists, and humans in general. It has a chance of impacting Earth in the distant future. On NASA’s list of impact risks, Bennu is ranked No. 2. Current data shows dozens of potential impacts in the final quarter of the 22nd century, although all only have a minute chance of actually happening.
How does TAG work?
For anyone who’s ever dabbled with robots or maybe even entered a robotics competition, the Osiris-Rex mission would seem to be the ultimate culmination of a young roboticist’s dreams. The touch-and-go sampling procedure is a complex, high-stakes task that’s been building to a key climactic moment for years. If it succeeds, it will play a role in history and our future in space.
The basic plan was for Osiris-Rex to touch down on Bennu at a rocky. The van-size spacecraft would need to negotiate building-size boulders around the landing area to touch down on a relatively clear space that’s only as large as a few parking spaces. However, a robotic sampling arm was the only part of Osiris-Rex to actually set down on the surface. One of three pressurized nitrogen canisters was fired to stir up a sample of dust and small rocks that could then be caught in the arm’s collector head for safe keeping and return to Earth.
The descent to the surface of Bennu took roughly four hours, about the time it takes the asteroid to make one full revolution. After this slow approach, the actual TAG sample collection procedure remarkably lasted only a few seconds.
Preparing for TAG did not go exactly as planned. Mission organizers initially hoped the surface of Bennu would have plenty of potential landing spots covered primarily with fine materials comparable to sand or gravel. It turns out the surface of Bennu is extremely rugged with no real welcoming landing spots.
After spending much of the last two years reevaluating the mission, the team decided to try “threading the needle” through the boulder-filled landscape at Nightingale.
It’s all paid off, so far., but we won’t know for sure if it collected a sample until later in October. Fortunately, if the tag was unsuccessful, the spacecraft can try again. It’s equipped with three nitrogen canisters to fire and disrupt the surface, which means the team gets up to three tries at nabbing a sample.
Immediately after collecting its sample, Osiris-Rex fired its thrusters to back away from Bennu. The spacecraft will continue to hang around above Bennu for the rest of 2020 before finally performing a departure maneuver next year and beginning a two-year journey back to Earth.
On Sept. 24, 2023, Osiris-Rex is scheduled to jettison its sample return capsule, which will land in the Utah desert and be recovered for study.
Hasn’t this been done before?
Yes. Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft successfully returned tiny grains of the asteroid 25143 Itokawa to Earth in 2010. Its successor, Hayabusa-2, and then retrieved some of the shrapnel. That sample is on its way back to Earth.
How can I watch?
The CNET Highlights channel covered the event live. You can rewatch the stream below:
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