Zhurong on Mars

For people asking “Where are the pictures of China’s Zhurong rover?” – it’s still early days. Above is a timeline comparison with NASA’s Perseverance. Testing processes take time – Perseverance did not start driving until 15 days after arrival. And apparently Zhurong’s initial uplink speed was only 16 bit/s.

As I understand the schedule, Zhurong will roll off the lander on 22 May, and the rover and lander will photograph each other on 27 May.

Update #1: the Zhurong rover has now established a higher-bandwidth uplink via the Tianwen-1 orbiter, so sending photos taken by the lander is now technically feasible.

Update #2: photographs have now been released (rover on left and view down descent ramp on right):

Current NASA DSN tasking

My visualisation of current NASA Deep Space Network tasking as per eyes.nasa.gov/dsn (click image to zoom). Several Mars orbiters are lending a hand to transfer Perseverance imagery from the Martian surface, while other space science is going on as normal.

The chart is for 2 PM Australian time, with the Sun overhead in Tidbinbilla, Australia, and Mars overhead in the 7 PM evening sky in Goldstone, California. The respective skies looked like this (click to zoom):

Later in the afternoon, as Mars rose in the sky, Tidbinbilla began to share the load of Martian traffic. As Jupiter and the Sun rose over Madrid, MDSCC prepared to take over traffic from Juno.

Mars Perseverance

NASA Mars Perseverance mission (click to zoom): top left: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Perseverance descending by parachute, top right: onboard camera photographs Perseverance on final descent by jet-pack, bottom left: onboard camera looks out at Mars, bottom right: artist’s impression of Perseverance on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance mission, launched last July, landed on Mars yesterday. As well as the Perseverance rover, there is a small robot helicopter called Ingenuity. The landing site was the Jezero crater. We look forward to lots of interesting data, so keep an eye on mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.

Hope Mars Mission News

MBRSC image of the Emirates Mars Mission Hope orbiter superimposed on an ESA/MPS/OSIRIS true-colour image of Mars

The Emirates Mars Mission Hope orbiter, launched in July last year, is scheduled for Mars orbit insertion on Tuesday 9 February (at 3:42 PM GMT = 9:42 AM Chicago time = 2:42 AM Wed Sydney time). The orbiter has three scientific instruments intended to study different aspects of the Martian atmosphere:

  • The Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS) will study the lower atmosphere of Mars at infrared wavelengths, looking for dust, ice particles, etc.
  • The Emirates Exploration Imager (EXI) will study the lower atmosphere of Mars at visible (RGB) and ultraviolet (UV-A/C) wavelengths and will also take pictures of the planet itself.
  • The Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) will study gases in the upper atmosphere of Mars.

For updates, see the Hope Mars Mission website and the official Hope Mars Mission social media at        (click on the icons).

Update: Hope Mars orbit insertion was successful.

Mars Close Approach

It is Mars Close Approach again. Check Fourmilab Solar System Live for what the solar system looks like right now (and see the image above). Wolfram Alpha will calculate the distance for you (62,070,000 km right now).

Or check the actual night sky. “The Finger points / At an Eye blood-red,” as Anne McCaffrey wrote in Dragonflight.

A planetary fruit salad

Here is a planetary fruit salad – a scale model of objects in the solar system (click to zoom). The Moon and the smaller planets are on the top left saucer. The lower right saucer represents the rings of Saturn.

On this scale (roughly 1 to 2 billion), the Moon is 19 centimetres from the Earth, the Earth is 73 metres from the Sun, Jupiter is 380 metres from the Sun, and Pluto is around 3 kilometres from the Sun.

Object Diameter Scaled Diameter Model
Sun 1,392,700 km 68 cm Beach ball (not shown)
Mercury 4,879 km 0.24 cm Mustard seed (yellow)
Venus 12,104 km 0.59 cm Chickpea
Earth 12,756 km 0.62 cm Chickpea (coloured blue)
Moon 3,475 km 0.17 cm Mustard seed (black)
Mars 6,792 km 0.33 cm Peppercorn (black)
Jupiter 142,984 km 7 cm Orange
Saturn 120,536 km 5.9 cm Lemon
Saturn’s Rings (up to F) 280,360 km 14 cm Saucer
Uranus 51,118 km 2.5 cm Grape
Neptune 49,528 km 2.4 cm Grape
Pluto 2,377 km 0.12 cm Poppy seed

Looking back: 2009

Washington, DC in June 2009

In 2009, I had the privilege of visiting the United States twice (in June and November).

This was the year that saw the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which imaged, among other things, the Apollo 11 landing site), the Kepler space telescope (designed to look for exoplanets), the Herschel space observatory (an infrared telescope studying star formation), the Planck spaceprobe (which studied the cosmic microwave background), and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (an infrared telescope looking for minor planets and star clusters).

Apollo 11 landing site, imaged by the LRO (with photographs from 1969 inset)

More metaphorically, Bitcoin and the programming language Go were also launched. US Airways Flight 1549, on the other hand, was skillfully landed in a river. In archaeology, hoards were discovered in Staffordshire (gold and silver metalwork) and Shrewsbury (Roman coins). Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, torpedoed in 1943, was discovered off the Queensland coast.

Books of 2009 included Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (set in 1500–1535; a TV series of 2015), The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (dystopian science fiction; Nebula Award winner), and The Maze Runner by James Dashner (young adult dystopian sci-fi; a film of 2014). Books that I later reviewed include The Lassa Ward by Ross Donaldson and God’s Philosophers by James Hannam.

Movies of 2009 included Avatar (rather disappointing), 2012 (a little silly), Angels & Demons (a travesty), Up (Pixar/Disney), Coraline (designed to give children nightmares), District 9 (designed to give adults nightmares), Julie & Julia (a film about cooking), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (a film about mirrors), and Sherlock Holmes (a lot of fun). On the whole, a good year for films.

In this series: 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2009.

Looking back: 2004

In 2004, I was privileged to visit Middle Earth (aka New Zealand) with a colleague and to present the paper “Network Robustness and Graph Topology.” A major event of that year was the landing of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Intended to operate for 90 Martian days (92 Earth days), Spirit kept going until 2010 (as xkcd remarked on in the comic above) and Opportunity set a record by operating until 2018. Also in 2004, the Stardust spaceprobe collected some comet dust.

On a more sombre note, 2004 saw the Boxing Day Tsunami. In the field of technology, Facebook and Gmail both launched in 2004, and Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn shared the Turing Award (for having invented the Internet).

This was an excellent year for cinema. Examples from different genres include National Treasure, Troy, Van Helsing, Man on Fire, Hotel Rwanda, The Village, Howl’s Moving Castle, and The Passion of the Christ. I certainly have memories that I treasure.

In this series: 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1989, 1991, 1994, 2000, 2004, 2006.

Looking back: 2006

Oxford, 2006

In 2006, I had the privilege of attending two conferences in England (the 11th International Command & Control Research & Technology Symposium in Cambridge and the Complex Adaptive Systems and Interacting Agents Workshop in Oxford).

This was the year that NASA launched the New Horizons spaceprobe towards Pluto (it was to arrive in 2015). Ironically, later in 2006, the International Astronomical Union somewhat controversially downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a “dwarf planet.”

Grigori Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture was declared the “Breakthrough of the Year” by the journal Science. A variety of books, such as this one, have tried to explain what the conjecture (now theorem) is about. So far, this is the only one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems to be solved.

Perelman was offered, but refused, the prestigious Fields Medal (in interviews, he raised some ethical concerns regarding the mathematical community).

Books of 2006 included the intriguing World War Z (later made into a mediocre film). Movies included Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Apocalypto, Black Book, Pirates of the Caribbean II, Cars, and The Nativity Story.

And in music, Carrie Underwood took the world by storm, singing about Jesus and about smashing up motor vehicles with baseball bats.

And returning him safely to the earth

In 1961, John F. Kennedy told Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

The Moon landing on 20 July 1969 achieved the first part of that goal. The second part was yet to come (in 1970, that would prove to be the hard part).

But on 21 July 1969, at 17:54 UTC, the spacecraft Eagle lifted its metaphorical wings and took off from the Moon (well, the upper ascent stage took off, as shown in the photograph below). There followed a rendezvous with Columbia, a flight back to Earth, and an eventual splashdown on 24 July. Mission accomplished.