NASA launched Mars Rover Perseverance on July 30, 2020. Barring unforeseen calamity a six month journey culminating on February 18, 2021. Tasked with astrobiology as its key objective, Perseverance is primed to search for evidence of ancient microbial life. A specialized toolbox containing state of the art X-ray fluorescence technology is designed to map chemistry of dust and rock, hopefully identifying traces of ancient microbial fossils.
Anyone who’s watched The Martian movie has an inkling of how far away Mars is. Theoretically the closest Earth and Mars can be is 54.6 million kilometers – sweet spot with Mars at perihelion (closest orbit to the Sun), Earth at aphelion (farthest orbit from Sun), but that’s never happened in recorded history. Closest recorded distance happened in 2003 at 56 million kilometers. At their farthest distance apart on opposite sides of the Sun, it’s a staggering 401 million kilometers between Earth and Mars. Average distance is 225 million km.
I can tell you light travels at 299,792 km/second. At closest possible distance, light from Mars would reach Earth in 3.03 minutes. Closest recorded approach is 3.11 minutes, 22.4 minutes at farthest approach, average time for Mars shine to reach Earth – 12.5 minutes. At 58,000 km/hour NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto was the fasted spacecraft ever launched. At that speed a spacecraft travelling in a straight line to Mars at closest approach would arrive in 39 days. Don’t get excited, the average is 162 days. Perseverance is travelling at 39,600 km per hour.
Daunting as distance and velocity might be, NASA created a interactive app to follow Perseverance in real time. https://eyes.nasa.gov/apps/orrery/#/sc_perseverance
Zoom in, zoom out, be one with Perseverance or peer at it from Pluto’s perspective. Once you get the hang of it, a cosmic pondering delight.
Follow the 2020 Mars mission in real time here. Fully interactive, Eyes on the Solar System lets you track Perseverance in real time as it travels to Mars. Give Perseverance a spin, or use controls on pop-up menus to customize just what you see, from faraway to right “on board.” Image via NASA/ JPL-Caltech.