Howdy, readers. About every two years, the orbits of Mars and Earth work to put Mars behind the Sun when viewed from Earth. In this arrangement, the Sun makes it pretty tough to communicate with the various spacecraft we’ve got orbiting the Red Planet and creeping around on its surface. This arrangement, called “solar conjunction,” lasts for about five weeks. During this time, we generally reduce operations to the bare minimum required to keep these marvels running. MRO’s HiRISE is no exception, do we haven’t been taking images for the past five weeks.
That ends today, though. Mars recently came out of solar conjunction and operations have been ramping up. We ought to be starting our first post-conjunction image at around 9 PM Tucson time (MST) tonight, February 22.
I mention this fact to draw your attention to a pretty cool feature of the Google Earth desktop application. It’s been around for a while, but you might not have heard about it. It’s called Live from Mars, and it shows you the orbits of MRO and Odyssey as they’re orbiting Mars right now. You can also see the image footprints for upcoming HiRISE (MRO) and THEMIS (Odyssey) observations. Even cooler, you can virtually ride along with MRO or Odyssey, your point of view tracking along those orbits.
To set it up, launch the latest version of the Google Earth desktop application. Find the little menu button that looks like Saturn, and click it to drop down the menu. Select Mars.
Once Mars comes into view, go to the Layers panel and open up the Mars Gallery group. You should see Live from Mars. Open up that group, and you’ll see Live from Odyssey and Live from MRO. Open up the Live from MRO group and you’ll find MRO Orbit, Fly Along, and HiRISE Footprints. Activate those and you’ll see a segment of the MRO orbit; you might see a HiRISE footprint or two, but our images are so small compared to the size of Mars that you might need to zoom in a bit to find them.
If you double-click the Fly Along item, your point of view will switch to that of MRO orbiting Mars. As you travel along, you’ll come across upcoming HiRISE observations, such as the one called out in the above image.
Cool, isn’t it?