Stargazing on Mars
Three nocturnal views of the sky from the surface of Mars. The pictures were
taken by the panoramic camera on NASA's Spirit rover.
A composite of nine 60-second exposures taken
during night hours of Spirit's 643rd Martian night (Oct. 25, 2005), during a week when
Mars was predicted to pass through a meteor stream associated with comet P/2001R1 LONEOS.
Many stars can be seen in the images, appearing as curved "dash-dot" streaks.
The star trails are curved because Mars is rotating while the camera takes the images.
The dash-dot pattern is an artifact of taking an image for 60 seconds, then pausing about
10 seconds while the image is processed and stored by the rover's computer, then taking another
image for 60 seconds, etc., for a total of about 10 minutes worth of "staring" at the night sky.
Many stars from the southern constellations Octans and Pavonis can be seen in the images.
The brightest ones in this view would be easily visible to the naked eye, but the faintest
ones are slightly dimmer than the human eye can detect.
Another view of possible shooting star, taken
during Spirit's 668th Martian night (Nov. 18, 2005). Here the view includes the
south celestial pole, and stars are seen going in a circle around it.
Spirit observed the Martian moon Phobos entering the shadow of Mars during
the rover's 675th Martian night (Nov. 27, 2005). The panoramic camera captured 16 images,
spaced 10 seconds apart, covering the period from when Phobos was in full sunlight to when
it was entirely in shadow.
This view is a time-lapse composite of images taken 20 seconds apart,
showing the movement of Phobos from left to right. Scientists are using information about
the precise timing of Phobos' eclipses to refine calculations about its orbital path.
The precise position of Phobos will be important to any future spacecraft taking detailed
pictures of the moon or landing on its surface.
Reported by: Jim Bell (credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell)
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