Observations from 'Curiosity' when Mar's moon Phobos crosses in front of the sun, like in September, help us to understand exactly where the rover is on the red planet. Researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid (Spain) have developed a method for achieving precisely this.
The exact location of Curiosity on the surface of Mars is determined using data transmitted from its antennas as well as the space probes that orbit the red planet. It is very unlikely that these systems would fail but in such an eventuality there would be an alternative for determining the location of the rover: 'ask it' what eclipses it sees.
"Observing these events offers an independent method for determining the coordinates of Curiosity," explains Gonzalo Barderas, researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and coauthor of the study.
For this method to be used the robot must have a camera or sensor capable of sending data about an eclipse. "It could prove especially useful when there is no direct communication with Earth that allows for estimation of its position using radiometric dating or images provided by orbiters," outlines the researcher.
The initial objective of the UCM group was to create a mathematical tool for predicting Phobos eclipses from the surface of Mars. But their method also proved useful in locating the precise location of any spacecraft that are also capable of observing eclipses from there. The details have been published in the 'Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society' journal.
The model predicted partial eclipses that took place on the 13 and 17 September. The MastCam camera that Curiosity carries in its mast captured them without any problems. The Spanish REMS instrument, namely the vehicle's environmental station, also detected a reduction in ultraviolet solar radiation during the eclipses (5% in the first case).
The initial simulations and the real end images coincided with a precision of one second. In order to make their calculations, the scientists considered the initial predicted landing area for Curiosity: an ellipse of 7 x 20 km2.
In addition, with just two minutes of observations and using the start and end times of Phobos' contact with the Sun, error can be reduced in the rover coordinates from an order of magnitude of kilometres to another of metres.
According to the model, the next movements of the Martian moon will take place between the 13 and 20 August 2013 and between the 3 and 8 August 2014. Curiosity will have the chance to observe eclipses again and the Spanish scientists will be able to confirm the validity of their tool.
"In any case, this method can be applied to other space probes operating on the surface of Mars that have the ability to make optical observations or that have instruments that measure solar radiation," outlines Luis Vázquez, one of the authors.
In fact, under the scientific management of Vázquez, this study forms part of a Spanish project associated to the joint Russian, Spanish and Finnish MetNet mission to distribute small meteorological stations across Mars.
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology: http://www.fecyt.es/fecyt/home.do
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Its on-going mission, to explore the strange new comet, to seek out new plumes of dust and gas, spewing from the warming surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Somewhere dark and icy on a comet 320 million miles away, the history-making, comet-bouncing Philae spacecraft is sleeping. Its batteries are depleted and there isn’t enough sunlight to recharge. But while the lander finished its primary job, collecting invaluable data on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Rosetta mission is far from over. For many scientists, the excitement is just beginning.
Black Beauty, a 4.4 billion-year-old martian meteorite, has captivated collectors and scientists
After landing a probe on an icy comet, the European Space Agency (ESA) is now heading to scorching-hot Mercury with its BepiColombo spacecraft.
To see back in time, you need a massive telescope—one big enough to capture light from when the first galaxies were formed, 13.5 billion years ago. Astronomers are clamoring to see this light, so NASA is obliging them by building the James Webb Space Telescope.
No one knows what the planet Gliese 667Cc looks like. We know that it is about 22 light-years from Earth, a journey of lifetimes upon lifetimes. But no one can say whether it is a world like ours, with oceans and life, cities and single-malt Scotch. Only a hint of a to-and-fro oscillation in the star it orbits, detectable by Earth's most sensitive telescopes and spectrographs, lets astronomers say the planet exists at all.
A top U.S. Air Force official on Wednesday said she is "pretty optimistic" that privately held Space Exploration Technologies will eventually be certified to launch U.S. military satellites into orbit but declined comment on the timing of such an action.
A dramatic study—and an equally dramatic video simulation—reveal a cataclysmic cosmic event
Dan Winters There’s no way to anticipate the emotional impact of leaving your home planet. You look down at Earth and realize: You’re not on it. It’s breathtaking. It’s surreal. It’s a “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” kind of feeling.
A Russian spacecraft is visiting satellites, raising fears it could be part of an anti-satellite programme – if it's not an inspection craft