NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to land on Mars this Thursday and if there’s clear skies you should be able to see the Red Planet for yourself.
Mars should be visible to the naked eye on the evening of February 18 and it will also be in conjunction with the Moon.
The Moon will be about 42%-lit, meaning Mars should shine bright enough to be clearly visible.
This means you’ll be able to use the Moon as a guide to spot the Red Planet in the night sky on what is set to be a historic day.
Mars rises just after sunset so wrap up warm and look for the Moon when the sky is dark.
Around two hours after sunset, you should spot Mars just above the Moon and shining like a reddish star.
Use binoculars to take an even closer look and try imagining Nasa’s Perseverance reaching the surface at around 9pm GMT (4pm ET).
For those in the US, by the time you spot Mars the rover should have hopefully landed.
Nasa’s Perseverance hit the final stretch of its seven-month journey from Earth this week.
This means it will soon start what engineers at the US space agency are calling the “seven minutes of terror”.
The six-wheeled rover is set to emit a radio alert as it streaks into the thin Martian atmosphere, and by the time that signal reaches mission managers some 127million miles (204million km) away, Perseverance will already have landed on the Red Planet – hopefully in one piece.
Perseverance is expected to take seven minutes to descend from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet’s surface.
Nasa’s Perseverance rover is the size of a small carCredit: Nasa
That’s less time than the 11-minute-plus radio transmission to Earth.
Thus, Thursday’s final, self-guided descent of the rover spacecraft is set to occur during a white-knuckled interval that JPL engineers affectionately refer to as the “seven minutes of terror.”
Al Chen, head of the JPL descent and landing team, called it the most critical and most dangerous part of the £1.6billion ($2.7billion) mission.
“Success is never assured,” Chen told a recent news briefing.
Building on discoveries of nearly 20 US outings to Mars dating back to Mariner 4’s 1965 flyby, Perseverance may set the stage for scientists to conclusively show whether life has existed beyond Earth, while paving the way for eventual human missions to the fourth planet from the sun.
A safe landing, as always, comes first.
Perseverance aims to land in Mars’s Jezero craterCredit: Nasa
If all goes as planned, Nasa’s team would receive a follow-up radio signal shortly before 4pm ET (9pm GMT) confirming that Perseverance landed on Martian soil at the edge of an ancient, long-vanished river delta and lake bed.
From there, the nuclear battery-powered rover will embark on the primary objective of its two-year mission.
It will engage a complex suite of instruments in the search for signs of microbial life that may have flourished on Mars billions of years ago.
Nasa will be the third space agency to reach Mars this month.
The United Arab Emirates put its Hope probe into Mars’s orbit last, shortly followed by China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter.
Here’s what you need to know about the Red Planet…
- Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun
- It is named after the Roman god of war
- The landmass of Mars is very similar to Earth but due to the difference in gravity you could jump three times higher there than you can here
- Mars is mountainous and hosts the tallest mountain known in the Solar System called Olympus Mons, which is three times higher than Everest
- Mars is considered to be the second most habitable planet after Earth
- It takes the planet 687 Earth days to orbit the Sun
- So far, there has been 39 missions to Mars but only 16 of these have been successful
In other space news, China’s Tianwen probe captured rare footage of the rocky surface of Mar after entering the planet’s orbit last week.
Elon Musk has warned that humanity may “self-extinguish” before we can colonise Mars.
And, dead alien civilisations could be littered all over our galaxy, according to a new study.
Will you be stargazing this week? Let us know in the comments…
We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at [email protected]