By Stacy Palen
Heads up, everyone! NASA is making another extraordinary rover landing on Mars.
Mars is an easy target for students to view this month and is easily visible between sunset and midnight. It’s the only bright planet visible just now and is typically easy for students to identify because of its distinctive red color.
But in other news, the Perseverance rover is landing on Mars on February 18. This is another one of these amazing multi-method landings, involving parachutes and space cranes. A delightfully real-looking CGI “trailer” for the event can be found here.
The landing will be broadcast live on NASA TV, and there are a number of broadcasts leading up to the landing. You can find those listed (in EST) here.
The rover is looking for signs of ancient life and will collect rock and soil samples for their possible return to Earth. It’s also carrying along several prototypes, such as a helicopter and “Moxie,” which produces O2 from Martian CO2. These prototypes test concepts for equipment for future exploration, including astronaut missions to Mars.
Full mission details can be found at Nasa.gov.
This entire episode dovetails nicely with Activity 12 (Planning a Manned Mission to Mars) in Learning Astronomy by Doing Astronomy, Second Edition. I’ve got my students watching the landing and doing the activity in the same week. If we’re lucky, we might even get a break in the clouds one evening between now and then so they can see Mars with their own eyes!