NASA’s Perseverance and CNSA’s Zhurong rovers might be grabbing all the attention, but there’s another mission at Mars that deserves your time.
Meet “Hope,” an orbiter sent to Mars in the summer of 2020—at the same time as Perseverance and Zhurong—as part of the Emirates Mars Mission, the first interplanetary exploration undertaken by an Arab nation.
Hope (Al-Amal in Arabic) is exploring the atmosphere of Mars globally, from both day to day and through the seasons. It’s trying to build the first full picture of Mars’ climate throughout a Martian year.
The data collected by Hope is being made freely available to the scientific community—and this week saw another big data release.
Although it’s not its primary mission, Hope has a camera onboard. The result is some stunning new images from citizen scientists, including these (below) from Andrea Luck, which include Olympus Mons, the tallest and largest volcano in the Solar System.
What Hope’s new images show
These beautiful images contains images of some stunning landmarks on the Martian surface.
The main image (top) and above show Tharsis Montes—three shield volcanoes in a row with about 430 miles between them—with Olympus Mons underneath. The left-most volcano of the three is Ascraeus Mons, whose peak reaches 59,000 ft.
Olympus Mons (also pictured below) has a summit at 72,000 ft.—about two and a half times Mount Everest’s height above sea level.
Why is Hope orbiting Mars?
Mars is losing its atmosphere, with hydrogen and oxygen constantly leaking into space.
The solar wind is partly to blame, but Hope is studying both the lower and upper atmosphere of Mars to see if there’s a connection between the planet’s own systems—weather, dust-storms and temperatures—and that loss of hydrogen and oxygen.
Why 2022 is ‘Year of Mars’
Since the red planet takes 687 days to orbit the Sun, roughly every two years it’s skirts past us on the outside. That alignment of Sun-Earth-Mars means that from Earth we see a very bright red planet 100% lit by the Sun. That moment is called opposition and it will occur on December 8, 2022.
As we build-up to that period—when Mars will be its biggest, brightest and best and easily viewable to the naked eye just after dark—the planet will steadily brighten in our night sky.
China’s orbiter sends back ‘selfies’
The Zhurong rover is part of China’s Tianwen-1 mission, which also includes an orbiter. A few weeks it sent back incredible images of itself after jettisoning a small sub-satellite that included a camera.
When’s the next new Mars mission?
Since Mars and Earth will be closest late in 2022 that makes it an ideal time to send to launch a spacecraft to take advantage of the closeness between the two planets.
After COVID-19 related delays prior to its scheduled launch in 202o the European Space Agency and Roscosmos intend to send their joint ExoMars mission skywards in 2022.
A 12-day launch window opens on September 20, 2022 with the Rosalind Franklin rover scheduled to land on Mars on June 10, 2023.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.