Space station returns to view. Little Mars robot strides toward Endeavour

Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson reflects as she looks out the International Space Station's cupola window during a mission in September 2010. Credit: NASA/Doug Wheelock

No more shuttles, that’s for sure, but you can still watch the International Space Station (ISS) cruise 245 miles high over your neighborhood. A new round of bright dawn passes begins this weekend and continues for the next several weeks. You’ll find a list of times and expectations below for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times for your town, please click HERE and key in your zip code or log in to Heavens-Above. The ISS looks like a very bright star with a steady light (not flashing) and travels from the western direction to the east. Its eight large, orange-colored solar arrays give the station a yellow hue to the naked eye.

* Monday morning July 25 starting at 5:09 a.m. very low (a fist high at best) across the southeastern sky
* Tues. July 26 at 4:48 a.m. A little higher in the S.East than yesterday’s pass.
* Weds. July 27 at 3:53 a.m. Another very low pass in the S. East
* Thurs. July 28 at 4:29 a.m. It gets better! Excellent pass from S.West to N.East. The ISS will glide under Jupiter at 4:32 a.m. and rival the planet in brightness.
* Fri. July 29 at 5:06 a.m. Cruises almost directly overhead moving west to east. Brilliant!
* Sat. July 30 at 4:10 a.m. Another bright one. Travels from S.West to N.East under the Great Square of Pegasus.

The Opportunity rover sent this photo taken on Friday from Mars showing part of the rim of Endeavour crater in the distance about a kilometer away. It will probably be a month or so until the rover reaches its destination. Credit: NASA

The Mars Opportunity rover continues to make great progress in its drive to the 14-mile-diameter crater Endeavour. After more than seven years of operation, the little robot has traveled 20.20 miles. Currently it’s less than 3/4 mile from ‘Spirit Point’ on the crater’s rim. Because of the crater’s size, scientists expect to study rocks excavated from deep beneath the Martian crust that landed around the rim after the impact. The larger the crater, the deeper the excavation and the older the rocks available for study. Large meteorites become, in effect, giant drills.

Endeavour and neighboring craters on Mars. Credit: NASA

Although Opportunity has had technical problems, mission controllers continue to figure out ways to guide it from one destination to the next. The motor in its right front wheel has been drawing more current than it should for some time now. To help extend the motor’s life, controllers have been driving the rover backwards.

According to JPL’s Bill Nelson, chief of the mission’s engineering team,
“Opportunity has an arthritic shoulder joint on her robotic arm and is a
little lame in the right front wheel, but she is otherwise doing
remarkably well after seven years on Mars — more like 70 in ‘rover
years.’ The elevated right front wheel current is a concern, but a
combination of heating and backwards driving has kept it in check over
the past 2,000-plus sols.” (A ‘sol’ is the length of a day on Mars or 24 hours 37 minutes).

This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater. The oval indicates the landing area. Credit: NASA

NASA’s next Mars rover, named Curiosity, will launch sometime between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18 and land at the foot of a layered mountain inside Gale crater in August 2012. The large crater is home to a 3-mile-high mountain, the lower layers of which contain minerals formed in water. A fan-shaped deposit of sediments likely left by a long-ago stream lies within the landing area. Curiosity, which is twice the size of Opportunity, will use its tools to determine if conditions in the area were once favorable for supporting life.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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