The beauty of Martian sunrise and sunset snapped by a robot
The latest outer space robotic explorer gives the Red Planet its best checkup since its birth 4.5 billion years ago
Last week, while we little ants in our tiny land were gearing up for the 25th anniversary of our first true democratic election, a robotic arm was taking pictures of a Martian sunrise and sunset about 225 million kilometres away.
Those pictures have now been made public, and what they captured is just as fascinating as the technology behind it.
The spacecraft on Mars belongs to Nasa and is called InSight, which is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It was, according to Nasa, “designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago”.
It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle and core.
A camera on the spacecraft’s robotic arm snapped some pictures last week (on April 24 and 25) to capture sunrise and sunset images.
On Mars, a day lasts 24 hours and just more than 37 minutes. This is a small difference with Earth compared to some of the other planets. On Mercury a day lasts as long as 1,408 hours. On Venus, which has the longest day of all planets, you will wait a whopping 5,832 hours for the sun to rise again. On the other end of the spectrum, there are the gas giant planets that rotate super-fast. On Jupiter, a day is only 10 hours (quite convenient if you’re having a bad hair day), while on Saturn it is 11 hours. On Neptune a day is 16 hours and on Uranus, 17.
The Martian snaps were taken from about 5.30am and then from about 6.30pm. Because the sun is much farther from Mars than from Earth, it appears much smaller in the images: about two-thirds of the size of what we see from Earth.
The camera had taken practice shots earlier in March, but last week’s ones were the real deal.
Justin Maki, InSight scientist said: “It’s been a tradition for Mars missions to capture sunrises and sunsets. With many of our primary imaging tasks complete, we decided to capture the sunrise and sunset as seen from another world.”
The first mission to send back such images was the Viking 1 lander, which captured a sunset in 1976, while Viking 2 captured a sunrise in 1978. Since then, both sunrises and sunsets have been recorded by the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, among other missions.
Meantime, a new book has also been published that draws a lay readership into the excitement of discovering more about a new planet as the technology to do so improves.
Mysteries of Mars is by Fabio Vittorio de Blasio and has just been published by Springer. In a statement, the publishing house said: “On Mars, low atmospheric pressure means that water would freeze or boil away within minutes. However, this book shows that the Red Planet bears scars from ancient river deltas, channels and powerful torrents.”
The author speculates on how this might be possible and explores nine other mysteries of Mars’ geomorphology and climate.
“What killed its magnetic field? Is there or has there been life on Mars? With the answers open for debate, he shows readers how they can live the excitement of planetary exploration themselves. By analysing images from the main probes, they might find something new or interpret what they see in an original way,” according to the statement.