Take A Wonderful Flight Over Mars / 41P Comet Update

An imaginary flight above the real Mars. Click here for the full-screen option – highly recommended!

I started my day in orbit around Mars and can’t wait for you to join me. Just click the button and your journey to the Red Planet begins with a close approach to its largest moon, Phobos. The video, titled A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars, was created by filmmaker Jan Fröjdman from Finland. In it, he used photos taken by the high-definition camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Linear dunes in the north polar region of Mars. Between them we see a network of cracks that may indicate that ice-rich permafrost is present or has been present in recent geological time in this location. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Fröjdman took the information on Mars’ topography contained in the photos taken by MRO to impart a realistic 3-D feel to landscapes that include craters (my favorite is the fresh, black-rayed crater), cliffs, mesas and weird polar ice forms. Panning creates a sense of being in orbit, while special sound effects such as the firing of thrusters to adjust course heighten the realism.

To create the 3-D effect, he referenced more than 33,000 points on the images in a process that took him on and off some 3 months. The result is smooth and feels like you’re looking out a big picture window at the surface.

Light-toned layered deposits along the floor of Becquerel Crater, an impact crater in Arabia Terra on the planet Mars. The deposits consist of stacked, repeating layers each about 12 feet thick. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Fröjdman points out that the colors in the film are not quite what you would see in real life because the stereo images he used were grayscale and not color. The light regions in the clips are yellowish and the dark regions bluish. The clips from the polar regions seen at the end of the video have a white-blue tone. Although quick to point out that the film isn’t hard science, he wanted most of all to give viewers a sense of being there.

I took this photo of the Big Dipper last night with a 35mm lens to show how the comet looks in binoculars — just a puff with a little bit brighter center. The green color, so apparent in photos, does not show to the eye. Tonight 41P/T-G-K will be immediately to the right of the star Merak in this view facing northeast. The yellowish haze at right is a small cloud that drifted by. Credit: Bob King

Last night, I got a chance to see comet 41P/T-G-K in binoculars up under the bowl of the Big Dipper. I stepped outside around 10 o’clock for a look. After my eyes got used to the dark, I pointed a pair of 10 x 50 binoculars at the comet and bingo — there it was. Although faint and puffy-looking, I spotted it right away as a small cloud about the size of the full moon. I estimated its brightness at magnitude +8.2.

The comet would be difficult or impossible to see from a light polluted area without a telescope but from outer suburbs and the countryside, it shouldn’t prove difficult in 50mm or larger if you know where to look. You’ll find a map to help you do just that as well as more information on 41P in this earlier blog.

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