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Zooming In On Mars With Mastcam-Z


Air Date: 09/01/2015
Run Time: 28:50

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  • Jim Bell, President of the Board of Directors, The Planetary Society
  • Justin Maki, Project Manager, Imaging Scientist and Instrument Systems Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Topics: Mars 2020, New Horizons, amateur image processing, Planetary Radio, Mars, Bill Nye

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Our reporting from the 2nd Mars 2020 Rover Landing Site Selection Workshop continues as we talk with Jim Bell and Justin Maki, leaders of the development team for the most advanced camera ever planned for the surface of Mars. Emily Lakdawalla shares jaw-dropping visualizations of Pluto created from New Horizons images by “amateurs.” Bill Nye agrees with astronaut Jeremy Hansen: Mars is a crappy place to live. Bruce Betts and Mat Kaplan share more night sky wonder and a space trivia contest.

SOFIA in flight

NASA / Jim Ross

SOFIA in flight
With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) soars over California's snow-covered Southern Sierras.
Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z zoom design
Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z zoom design
Cross-sectional view of the Mars 2020 Mastcam-Z zoom design.

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Trivia Contest

This week's prizes are a fabulous Planetary Radio t-shirt and a 200-point account for use of the global network of telescopes!

This week's question:

What moon in our solar system is closest in size to Earth’s moon (besides Earth’s moon)?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at no later than Tuesday, September 8th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

What Mars lander or landers were imaged under their parachutes by orbiters as they descended to the surface?


The answer will be revealed next week.

Question from the week before:

How many hexagonal segments will make up the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope?


The James Webb Space Telescope will consist of 18 thin mirror segments.


No trivia contest spoilers please!

Rich H: 09/02/2015 08:11 CDT

Silly question: how do the rovers clean the lenses when they start to get dirt and dust on them?

James Sorenson: 09/04/2015 12:09 CDT

Rich, There really isn't anyway to clean the dust off the lenses other than waiting for a lucky wind gust to either clean them or make it worse. Both can happen. There is a couple of ways to mitigate and prevent dust buildup. One way is stow the camera's pointing down (-90 degrees from the horizon) when not being used. Another is having a motorized dust cover. The mast camera's on MSL don't have dust covers, but MAHLI on does. Opening this just prior to an observation then closing it is a very good way at preventing just build up on the camera. I guess another way is just having long camera baffle tubes like what Mastcam has. I imagine though that if dust ever got on the lens with a long baffle tube, it might be much harder to have a wind gust remove since a gust would have to be more direct on into the camera rather than having a shorter baffle which would allow more ways wind could blow onto the lens for any chance of dust removal. The downsides though to having short baffles is glancing light rays and of coarse the more likelihood at collecting dust.

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