Update on Mars Rover Touchdown, and Top Celestial News and Views for March 2021

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

If you didn’t have the opportunity to view NASAs LIVE control room coverage of the Mars rover landing, this is what you missed…

As each step of the Perseverance Rover landing sequence reached its goal, the energy in the room ramped up another notch. Over and over, the possibility of the rover’s failure to land safely had been expressed to the point you could actually feel the team’s tension mount as Perseverance inched closer to landing in the Jezero Crater.

And then… TOUCHDOWN!

As the car-sized rover reported back that all systems were functioning and ready for the next steps of its mission, to “search for signs of ancient microbial life,” the goosebumps rose up on my arms and I could barely contain the thrill of this accomplishment.

A few minutes after Perseverance reported touchdown, the first black and white photograph of the Jezero Crater filled the screen.

Although it looked like the photos could have easily been taken at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, knowing that it took 8 months for Perseverance to reach the surface of our brother planet and only minutes to send back an image made the idea of actually colonizing the planet in the future a possibility – if not a reality if Elon Musk has anything to say about it.

After 30-60 days of weekly battery charging sessions, Perseverance will deploy the onboard helicopter, Ingenuity, to the surface of Mars. The little chopper will then need to survive the Martian nights on its own as temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Taking baby steps, the drone will practice hover and landings for its first aerial flight in Mars atmosphere… one much thinner than our own here on earth.

With this in mind, the engineers for Ingenuity needed to make the helicopter as light as possible for flight with an onboard camera. Being a pilot and knowing how easy it would be to overload a plane on a summer day when the air is thin, I can understand how critical this part of NASAs mission was in planning for a Mars flight.

Besides offering reconnaissance for Perseverance, the little chopper will also be taking the first EVER color photographs of the red planet.

February 22nd

See today’s video from Perseverance on NASAs YouTube channel HERE.

Now on to your Top Celestial News and Views for March 2021:

March 5th & 6th

Look for Mercury meeting with Jupiter low in the eastern sky, about 30-minutes before sunrise. Mercury will be the duller of the two planets positioned to the upper left of the big red planet. March 6th also offers the best time to photograph the tiny red planet so long as the skies are clear.

March 9th & 10th

Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in a diagonal line with Saturn being highest in the sky while the crescent moon hangs below it. Look for all four grouped low in the eastern sky before sunrise.

March 13th

The New Moon offers the best time to view the stars on a clear night. Just as reported last month, the night of the New Moon offers star gazers a clear view without added light to impede the display. Look for star clusters, planets, and neighboring galaxies this month while the moon sleeps.

March 14th

SPRING AHEAD! It's time to set your clocks ahead!

March 20th

This date marks the vernal equinox, also known as the first day of spring. As Michiganders get used to getting up an hour earlier, they will also enjoy this particular date as it will have equal amounts of day and night.

You know what that means... summer will be here soon!

March 28th

March's Full Moon, marks the time of year when the ground starts thawing and the earthworms come back out. Native American’s referred to it as the Worm Moon.

Get your cameras and your tripods set and on the ready. You will get the best shot of the Worm Moon as it rises at 2:48pm EST. This is the time when the moon will appear the largest.

These are some of the best sky watching opportunities coming in March, so keep your fingers crossed for clear skies and temperatures above zero to enjoy the sights!

Let me know what you were able to view, won’t ya?

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Cappucci, Matthew, January 10, 2021, The top astronomical events to look forward to in 2021, from ‘supermoons’ to eclipses, https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/01/10/top-astronomy-events-this-year/

Grecius, Tony, February 18, 2021, Blog: First Image From Perseverance on Mars, https://blogs.nasa.gov/mars2020/2021/02/18/blog-first-image-from-perseverance-on-mars/

Jackson, Ryan, February 16, 2021, 2021 Space Calendar: NASA’s Perseverance landing, SpaceX Starship tests and more, https://www.cnet.com/features/2021-space-calendar-nasas-perseverance-landing-spacex-starship-tests-and-more/

McFall-Johnson, Morgan & Mosher, Dave, January 17, 2020, Elon Musk says he plans to send 1 million people to Mars by 2050 by launching 3 starship rockets every day and creating ‘a lot of jobs’ on the red planet, https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-plans-1-million-people-to-mars-by-2050-2020-1

NASA, February 18, 2021, Release 21-018, TOUCHDOWN! NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Safely Lands on Red Planet, https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/touchdown-nasas-mars-perseverance-rover-safely-lands-on-red-planet

NASA, February 22, 2021, Panorama of Mars from Perseverance Rover, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irbigpycU8w

Rao, Joe, December 30, 2020, The 10 must-see night sky events to see in 2021, https://www.space.com/39231-top-skywatching-events-this-year.html

Reddit, 11 months ago, Bonneville Salt Flats, https://www.reddit.com/r/Utah/comments/fqy0ft/bonneville_salt_flats/

The Sky, 2021, Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events for Calendar Year 2021, http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2021.html

Waldek, Stefanie, January 3, 2021, 2021 Is Going to Be a Big Year in Space – Here’s What to Watch for This Year, https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/space-astronomy/space-missions-2021

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