Google+ Mars Travel: December 2012

ESA's New ESTRACK Antenna Receives a Photo of Mars

Take a look at this image of Mars beamed back from the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter to Europe's newest deep-space ESTRACK tracking station in Malargüe, Argentina. Mars Express used its Visual Monitoring Camera to take this image of Mars from 9,761 km (5065 mi) away.

It took the signal 18 minutes to cross the 327M km (203M mi) expanse of space between the Mars Express Orbiter and the new space tracking station in Argentina. 

Because of the angle of the orbiter, Mars appears to be lying on its side, daylight side down. On the dayside of this photo you can see three, possibly four large volcano domes, as well as numerous large canyons. 

The new European deep-tracking station makes the ESA only the second space agency (after NASA's Deep Space Network) to have coverage of the whole sky for deep space missions. The other two large 35m Deep Space Antennas in the ESA's Estrack system are located in New Norcia, Australia, and Cebreros, Spain. However, they have multiple tracking stations throughout the world, depicted below:

The Importance of MSL Curiosity's Self-Portraits

Below is a self portrait of Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity at Rocknest created by combining dozens of high resolution images taken by the rover on 31 October and 01 November 2012. A previous self-portrait at the same location did not include the magnificent view of MSL's ultimate target, Mt. Sharp, that this photo does.

You can see in this photo the five scoops MSL took out of the soil at Rocknest in order to first calibrate its sample-handling mechanisms, then test the Martian soil to determine its content. You can also see tire tracks made by the rover as it moved into Rocknest.

If you click on the image below and zoom in you will be better able to appreciate the majesty of Gale Crater's rocky terrain. You will also get a better view of Mount Sharp and the clays that lie around the base of Gale Crater's central uplift.

Source: NASA/JPL

Self portraits like the ones above serve a couple key purposes, one of which may not be so obvious:

Five Impacts, Same Time - How?

This HiRISE image shows a new impact site within a crevice in Fortuna Fossae, east of the Tharsis Quadrangle. There are five distinct craters that were created nearly simultaneously, indicating the meteorite broke up into 5 different pieces just prior to hitting the surface. This likely happened because the object was a loosely held aggregate of material that broke apart when put under pressure by the Martian atmosphere. Each of the craters has a dark distinctive ejecta pattern surrounding it. 

Scientists estimate that the impact was created sometime between September 2005 and May 2008. Click on the image to see the original high definition image. [See the original HiRISE caption]