Mercury at Inferior Conjunction

orbital-positions   Thursday 19 June at 23 UT (6 pm CDT) the innermost planet Mercury reaches inferior conjunction. As the banner graphic at the top of the page shows, inferior conjunction of Mercury places Mercury between the Earth and the Sun – much like the position of the Moon at new phase. The graphic to the right shows the relative to the Earth and Sun position names for both inner planets and outer planets.

   The short video below, taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover, shows a transit of the Sun by Mercury as seen from the surface of Mars.

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Mars, Phone Home!

This month, on the 18th, Mars reaches a position on the opposite side of the Sun that in astronomical terms is called a solar conjunction – or we would say that the Mars is in conjunction with the Sun. For the closest outer planet to the Earth Mars reaches solar conjunction approximately every 26 months. This is a result of the orbital periods for each planet and the time it takes for each planet to return to the same line up (Earth – Sun – Mars) or solar conjunction.
mars solar conjunction ani      While observing Mars is obviously not possible during a solar conjunction, having Mars on the opposite side of the Sun also impacts the current Mars exploration programs. In particular mission controllers are unable to communicate with the various orbiters and rovers on or around Mars for a period of about one month, ending at the start of next month. During this time the orbiters and rovers are put in a sort of safe mode where the rovers, for example, stay in one spot, not moving until contact with mission control is re-established.
   This animated graphic shows a view of the terrestrial planets at one-day intervals from April 4th to May 1st, the time period when radio communication is interrupted.

Click here to visit the Mars Curiosity Rover web site.

      Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Mars Panorama

   Photographer Andrew Bodrov has created an incredible interactive panorama using images from the Mars Rover Curiosity. The images are from earlier this month when Curiosity was making its first drill into a rock outcrop at a site named “John Klein”.

   Click here to go to the Mars Curiosity web site.

   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Streaming Geology Style

Martian Stream Deposits

    NASA Scientists with the Curiosity Rover mission have announced seeing water carried deposits in the form of an outcrop they have named “Hottah”. The outcrop is named after a large lake in the Canadian Northwest Territories.
    The image to the right has been cropped from the larger image but nonetheless shows that the small outcrop is a conglomerate, a sedimentary rock that is a mixture of rounded and smoothed rocks held together with natural cements. The shape of the rocks is an indication of the stream or river action that moved them along as they gradually became more rounded and smoothed by the tumbling action of the moving water.

    This is a particularly exciting discovery in that there is considerable evidence for flowing water on the surface of Mars in formations we know as channels. However this is the first time we have actually seen stream bed sedimentary deposits on the Martian surface.

    Click here to read the NASA press release