Visit the USGS Home Page Go to the Astrogeology Research Program Home Page USGS Astrogeology Research Program

Earth and Mars Close Encounter

Saturday, August 20, 2005

star map
Star Chart showing Mars (large red circle with symbol) rising, 20 August 2005 at 7AM UTC (midnight Arizona time).

Image Credit: Your Sky
800x800 20 KB
Earth is racing toward Mars at a speed of 23,500 mph, which means the red planet is getting bigger and brighter by the minute. In October, when the two planets are closest together, Mars will outshine everything in the night sky except Venus and the Moon. Because of the close proximity of Earth and Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) launch was planned for August 2006. Because it takes six or more months to reach Mars, the best time to start the trip is a month or so before closest approach--thus, August. MRO, launched August 12, will arrive at Mars in March 2006 after a seven month journey, enter orbit, and begin a two year mission to map the red planet in greater detail than ever before.

More: Science@NASA - Approaching Mars

Link: NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Link: Your Sky - Make your own star chart!

Tenth planet discovered

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

These time-lapse images of a newfound planet in our solar system, called 2003UB313, were taken on Oct. 21, 2003, using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The planet, circled in white, is seen moving across a field of stars. The three images were taken about 90 minutes apart.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL
200 x 66 2.65 KB

Tenth Planet Discovered

A planet larger than Pluto has been discovered in the outlying regions of the solar system.

The planet was discovered using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The discovery was announced today by planetary scientist Dr. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., whose research is partly funded by NASA.

The planet is a typical member of the Kuiper belt, but its sheer size in relation to the nine known planets means that it can only be classified as a planet, Brown said. Currently about 97 times further from the sun than the Earth, the planet is the farthest-known object in the solar system, and the third brightest of the Kuiper belt objects.

"It will be visible with a telescope over the next six months and is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky, in the constellation Cetus," said Brown, who made the discovery with colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., on January 8.

A name for the new planet has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name.

See the Full JPL News Release - NASA-Funded Scientists Discover Tenth Planet