Moon Visits Mars Tonight / Curiosity Rover 360°

A slivery day-old moon makes a brief appearance last week in the west at dusk. Bob King

The crescent moon made a beautiful return appearance to the evening sky late last week. Did you see that wispy thing? Tonight it’s filled out and high in the southwest at dusk. You’ll also notice how earthshine — sunlight reflected from Earth to the moon and back — faintly illuminates the remainder of the moon. With binoculars you can often see details in the earthlit portion including several lunar seas and possibly even the rayed crater Tycho. Give it a try then look a short distance to the right of the moon to find the planet Mars.

Look high up in late twilight tonight to catch the moon and Mars. They’ll be about 7° apart. Stellarium

Few amateur astronomers now observe Mars in a telescope because it’s so far away (the reason it’s not particularly bright) and tiny — there’s almost nothing to see except its shape. Mars continues to fade but will stick around through the end of May before it’s lost in the solar glare. We won’t see it brightly again until spring of 2020!

Good thing we can still get closeup views via the Curiosity rover’s eyes. After exploring Vera Rubin Ridge in Gale Crater for more than a year, the rover is now rolling toward the “Glen Torridon” region, an area that appears rich in clay-bearing rock as seen from orbit. Clay is good sign that water flowed and pooled within the crater long ago.


The Curiosity Rover departs Vera Rubin Ridge. Click and drag the image to see a 360° view.

The 360-video lets you visit Curiosity’s final drill site on the ridge, an area nicknamed “Rock Hall.” It was created from a panorama taken by the rover on Dec. 19. The rover found patches of hematite there, an iron-rich mineral that often forms in water as well as crystals of what looks to be gypsum, which may have crystallized in an evaporating lake.

This laminated bedrock on Mars, found at Vera Rubin Ridge, includes tiny crystal-shaped bumps shaped like a swallow’s tail. Vera Rubin was an American astronomer who worked on galaxy rotation rates. Her discoveries provided evidence for the existence of dark matterNASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Glen Torridon is a trough between the ridge and Mt. Sharp, the broad peak Curiosity has been climbing since 2014. Once it settles into its new digs, mission controllers will select a drill site to gnaw into those clay-rich rocks in hopes finding more organic molecules. Clay is good at trapping organics, which along with water are essential to making a habitable environment for life possible.

Things to ponder when you look up at the Red Planet tonight.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks, Bob! I’ll look for the Luna-Ares rendezvous tonight.

    I took my son Nicholas to see APOLLO 11 yesterday at a grand old movie house. He loved it. It was a shame that he was the only kid in the theatre. It was amazing to see all the NASA footage. It’s a full documentary, all vintage film.

  2. Barbara Ellingson

    Bob,

    Lots of fun sky viewing. I saw the space station go by this morning passing over a very bright Jupiter around 6:40 AM. Sky was clear. I also saw Mars by the moon last night. The moon set the last 2 nights looking very bright. I also saw the winter triangle and Hexagon Friday night. Sky cleared enough for viewing.
    Soo exciting when the sky is clear. Thanks for all the help in finding these heavenly bodies.

    Barb

    1. astrobob

      Barb,
      That’s great you went out and found so many wonderful night-sky objects. I was out enjoying the moon and Mars last night too. The views in the scope and binoculars of the moon were very nice.

  3. Edward M Boll

    A couple other things fading beside Mars, Wirtanen and Iwamoto. Since Wirtanen is still up all night long, one can still find it after moonset for a couple nights yet.

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