The Moon, Mars and Jupiter

Tomorow morning, July 6th, will see a nice 5-7° triangle made up of a slim crescent Moon, Mars and Jupiter. Look for the trio to start rising about 04:30 HST with Mars rising first, followed by a 2.5% illuminated Moon. Last up will be Jupiter, rising about 04:55 HST. The Sun will not rise until 05:48 giving plenty of time to enjoy this conjunction.

Billion-Pixel View of Mars From Curiosity Rover

JPL press release

A billion-pixel view from the surface of Mars, from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, offers armchair explorers a way to examine one part of the Red Planet in great detail.

The first NASA-produced view from the surface of Mars larger than one billion pixels stitches together nearly 900 exposures taken by cameras onboard Curiosity and shows details of the landscape along the rover’s route.

The 1.3-billion-pixel image is available for perusal with pan and zoom tools at: and a scaled down version (~159MB) is available for direct download here:

Billion-Pixel View From Curiosity at Rock Nest, Raw Color
This is a reduced version of panorama from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity with 1.3 billion pixels in the full-resolution version. It shows Curiosity at the “Rocknest” site where the rover scooped up samples of windblown dust and sand. Curiosity used three cameras to take the component images on several different days between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The full-circle scene surrounds the site where Curiosity collected its first scoops of dusty sand at a windblown patch called “Rocknest,” and extends to Mount Sharp on the horizon.

Continue reading “Billion-Pixel View of Mars From Curiosity Rover”

Mars Appears in the Dawn

This week Mars will appear in the dawn sky having passed through superior conjunction on April 17. Look for a 1.5 magnitude object to rise around 04:50, about 10° ahead of the Sun. The red planet will see opposition in April of 2014.

Tomorrow morning a very thin crescent Moon will share the dawn. Rising about 05:05 a 1% illuminated Moon will be 3° below Mars, closer to the rising Sun.

Mars at Superior Conjunction

Today Mars will pass through superior conjunction, passing behind the Sun from our vantage point on Earth. During this time the red planet will be lost to view, vanishing from the evening sky, but reappearing in the morning sky during the last days of May.

While the Sun blocks our direct view of Mars the probes we currently have on and around Mars will suffer communications interference. For a few weeks mission planners at NASA place the various orbiters and rovers into a reduced communications routine. No commands will be sent to the spacecraft and only basic status updates sent back. This is nothing new, all Mars missions have had to deal with superior conjunction every two years. Once the red planet is clear of the Sun normal mission activities will resume.

Mercury and Mars

Tonight and tomorrow the pair of planets, Mercury and Mars will be about 30′ apart, close enough to easily fit in the low power view of most small telescopes. The pair will be 13° above the sunset, setting about an hour after the Sun slides below the horizon.

After the 8th the pair will separate, with Mercury heading for maximum elongation on February 16th.

Mercury and Mars

For the next few evenings Mercury and Mars will pair in the sunset for a dance. Tonight the two are 3°13′ apart, with Mercury rising rapidly. Tomorrow the two will be only 2°17′ apart. On the 7th and 8th there will be about 30′ between the two. After the 8th the two will gradually draw apart. On the 10th the separation will be just over 2° with the addition of a 1.8% illuminated Moon just 7° lower and north of the pair.

The pair should be easy to spot. Mercury will be shining brightly at -1 magnitude with Mars at about 1.2 magnitude. A pair of binoculars might help spot the dimmer Mars.

Neptune is also in this dance, but at 8th magnitude it could be very difficult or impossible to spot, even with optical aid. On the 5th, with Mercury and Mars only 2&deg apart, Neptune will be right between the two.

Mars and Neptune

Tonight and tomorrow night Mars and Neptune will be under a degree apart. But, as the pair is quite low in the sky, this may not be observable. The planets will be 40′ apart tonight, a little closer tomorrow at only 27′ separation. The pair will be 14° above the horizon at sunset. Mars, shining a 1.2 magnitude should be relatively easy to spot. The 8th magnitude Neptune may be too dim to see, even with a telescope, against the bright glow of sunset.

On the evening of February 5th, Mercury will join in to create a trio, just 2° below Mars with Neptune between the two.