29 October 2016 | The Red Planet Welcomes Exomars


Credit & copyright: ESA – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO | Click image to enlarge


Mars as seen by the webcam on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter on 16 October 2016, as the ExoMars mission just reached the Red Planet. The goal of the ESA’s Exomars Programme is to determine if there ever was (and if there still is) life on Mars. Although it seems the landing of the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module did not fully go according to plans, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter was brought into Mars’ orbit with success:

We have an impressive orbiter around Mars ready for science and for relay support for the ExoMars rover mission in 2020. Schiaparelli’s primary role was to test European landing technologies. Recording the data during the descent was part of that, and it is important we can learn what happened, in order to prepare for the future. From the engineering standpoint, it’s what we want from a test, and we have extremely valuable data to work with.

This recent view of the planet shows its southern pole, covered by a permanent ice cap consisting mainly of carbon dioxide.

The image was taken with Mars Express’s simple, wide-angle camera, which was originally meant only to provide visual confirmation that its Beagle-2 lander had separated when they arrived at Mars in December 2003. Switched back on in 2007, the camera has since been used for outreach, education and citizen-science, and was eventually adopted as a professional science instrument by ESA earlier this year.

With its unique vantage point and wide field of view, this webcam can capture global images of the Red Planet, a capability currently available only on one other spacecraft operating there, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission.

Mars can be seen from Earth at the moment: it is visible as a red spot to the naked eye, low on the horizon towards the south in the early evening skies from the northern hemisphere, and reaching higher elevations in the evenings and early mornings from the southern hemisphere.

Amateur astronomers observing the Red Planet with a telescope can join the Mars focus group of the Pro-Am Collaborative Astronomy project, an international group sharing images of specific astronomical objects and events taken by the amateur community to support professional astronomers.

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