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“Night Vision” October 23 and 25: Mars Rovers

October 13th, 2014


A mosaic image taken by Spirit’s navigation camera shows the Mars Exploration Rover sitting on its landing platform only hours after touching down on Gusev Crater. The image has been reprocessed to imove the view. See more Spirit images in the Mars Exploration Rover Image Gallery. *Image Credit*: NASA
NASA Identifier: SPD-SLRSY-643

The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity arrived on the surface of Mars in January 2004. One of the requirements of mission success was that each rover continue to function for at least 90 Martian days. While Spirit ceased functioning in 2010, Opportunity is still exploring Mars more than a decade later. It has recently set an off-Earth driving record and is currently exploring an area on the rim of Endeavor crater, far from where it landed. The rocks in this location are very different from those at the landing site. For the scientists, it is like brand new mission.

On the other side of the planet from Opportunity, the Curiosity rover has completed more than one Martian year (about two Earth years) exploring Gale Crater, a location of great geologic interest to planetary scientists. Early in the mission it found evidence that Gale Crater hosted a habitable environment early in Mars’ history.

After a long drive from a flat and safe landing site, it has finally begun its ascent of MountSharp where it will conduct a detailed examination of many distinct rock layers. Each of these layers will provide clues about conditions on Mars at different times in its history.

Find out more about what these robotic missions have told us about the Red Planet in Night Vision, October 23 and 25.

Side note: Don’t forget to keep an eye out for more information from NASA about the close encounter between Mars and Comet Siding Spring on October 19th! And don’t forget to watch the Partial Solar Eclipse on October 23rd before you come over for Night Vision!

Lunar Eclipse Brings Blood Moon to Utah

October 6th, 2014

The Moon and Uranus during the 4:30 a.m. Total Lunar Eclipse on October 8th, 2014.

The Moon and Uranus during the 4:30 a.m. Total Lunar Eclipse on October 8th, 2014.

Early to bed, early to rise… guarantees you’ll be sleepy but happy and have something awesome to talk about on October 8th: a Blood Moon.

The next time you’re outdoor on a sunny day, take a look at your shadow.  That’s you getting in the way of sunlight.  Earth casts a shadow, much larger than yours, that extends hundreds of thousands of miles into space.

During the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8th Earth’s shadow will fall on the Moon and create a Total Lunar Eclipse.

If this isn’t your first rodeo, and you’ve already seen the Moon turn blood red as it passes through Earth’s shadow, then you may think that getting up early on a school day is just too big a hassle. But if you do, you’ll miss out on something even more rare and lovely a sight.

Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., when the Moon is fully eclipsed, take a look at it through a pair of binoculars. Then look just to left at the little greenish dot: that’s the planet Uranus. And here’s the thing. Uranus’s opposition (directly opposite the Sun) with Earth occurs just 13 hours prior to the Lunar Eclipse (something you won’t see in daylight), making the Earth-Uranus distance a mere 1.76 billion miles. That’s about as close to Earth as Uranus ever gets.

When you’re checking out the Moon and Uranus, consider this: If Earth was the size of a cherry held between your teeth, the Moon would be a pea between your fingers at arm’s length, and Uranus would be a baseball sitting 2.7 miles away.

So grab your binoculars, set your alarm clock, and catch a peek at the Blood Moon and Uranus on Wednesday so you’ll have something cool to talk about all day long.

“Gateway to the Stars” Oct 4: Autumn Sky Wonders

September 30th, 2014

The Dumbbell Nebula, the result of star death

The Dumbbell Nebula, the result of star death

The stars of “The Summer Triangle” are still prominent in the western sky but as we progress into autumn, another asterism will serve as our “pointer” for the new season. Continue reading ““Gateway to the Stars” Oct 4: Autumn Sky Wonders” »