May 16, 2012 is the third martian anniversary of the start of Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) observations from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. MCS started measuring the atmosphere of Mars three Mars years ago, on September 24, 2006. We can now compare the weather and behavior of the atmosphere in three different years, and find the temperature differences to be surprisingly large.
The Mars Climate Sounder instrument provides routine nightside observations of atmospheric temperature and opacity that document the presence of rapidly evolving water ice cloud layers in the Martian tropics during the northern summer season.
In a now-routine act of obtaining detailed photographs of robots from Earth sitting on the surface of another planet, the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured a view of Opportunity sitting on the rim of Endeavour crater.
Much has been made of the "enigmatic mound" within Gale crater, which will be the target of the Curiosity Mars rover's investigations. The 5,000-meter-thick section rocks in Gale's central mound will be fascinating to study, but the fact that Gale has a central mound that's taller than its rim is not at all unusual on Mars.
Regular readers of this blog will find the content of today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast familiar, because it's an update on what the solar system exploration spacecraft are up to, based on my monthly "what's up" updates.
April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.
In the past couple of months I've received several emails from scientists offering clarifications, corrections, or alternative points of view to previous posts, which is awesome and something that I enthusiastically encourage. Here's one of them.
Time to open the eleventh door in the advent calendar. Until the New Year, I'll be opening a door onto a different landscape from somewhere in the solar system. Where in the solar system are these sinuous ridges?
I just posted the following update to the Mars Climate Sounder Team Website. I didn't realize until this message came in to my inbox that it is now one Mars year before Curiosity lands. Tick, tick, tick...