Monday, November 28, 2011

How far is Mars? It depends when you ask



To mark the recent liftoff of the space rover Curiosity, the 39th mission to Mars, Matthew Bell pulled together 39 interesting facts about the Red Planet for “The Independent” newspaper.

Here’s his fact number 13:

“Mars's distance from Earth changes by the second because the two planets are on different elliptical orbits. The distance between them ranges from 36 million miles to more than 250 million miles.”

Which leads to Bell’s fact number 14:

“You can see exactly how far Mars is from Earth in real time thanks to the physics department of Emory University in Atlanta, which has it displayed second-by-second on its website.”

Here’s a link to the Mars real-time distance calculator. It was created by Emory astronomer Horace Dale, to counter the crazy rumors that swirl around about Mars every August. You can read about the Mars rumor here.

The Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars in August of 2012. The rover contains a seven-foot-long robotic arm, which will allow it to drill into Martian rocks to take samples, and explore the geographic history of Mars. Check out the video (at the top of this post) featuring animations of how the 1-ton rover will touch down when it arrives at Mars, and how the robot will look as it goes about its mission.

The first manned mission to Mars is likely to be a one-way trip. An artist rendition, above, of what the first Martian outpost could look like. (Image by NASA.)

For Bell’s final fact, he notes that the U.S. plans the first manned mission to Mars for 2030: “President Barack Obama gave his support last year, saying he expected to see it happen in his lifetime. But, because of the expense of sending astronauts there and back, it's been proposed that whoever goes to Mars should stay there indefinitely.”

That means that the first people to call the Red Planet home, the first Martians, could be walking the Earth right now.

Related:
Scientist tackles ethics of space travel
August rumor swirls around Mars

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