VMC Schools campaign projects

Get ready to do a lot of scrolling! This is our biggest, baddest blog post ever! #VMCSchools

ESA_AnimationThey’re in!

We’re starting to receive projects from the schools, youth groups and clubs that are taking part in our VMC Imaging Campaign, and the results are simply superb!

This blog post will present the ones we’ve received so far, and we’ll update you in future posts once we get the rest (several participants asked for extensions past the 31 July deadline until September, so it will still be a few weeks – but that’s fine when the quality is this good!).

To recap: In March/April, VMC imaging target proposals were submitted by 25 schools, youth groups and clubs in 12 countries. After extensive analysis, the Mars Express team at ESOC confirmed 22 were doable, given spacecraft and priority science constraints; later, the remaining three participates agreed to take over alternate targets so, in fact, all 25 received image sets. Imaging took place during several dedicated orbits 25/26 May, and we distributed image sets via email the first week in June.

Here’s a little teaser animation developed by the MEX team using most of the 1000+ images acquired as part of the VMC Schools campaign, mashed up to show a full orbit:

Since then, participating groups have been working on analysis of their images, and on educational projects that make use of the images in imaginative, scientific and/or artistic ways (this is a STEAM activity, after all!). And the results are well worth the wait!

Here’s the first impression sent in from the MEX team at ESOC, courtesy Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Engineer Andy Johnstone:

You’ve all achieved what we wanted to accomplish with this project by taking our fairly basic VMC images and doing some really cool things with them! Some of your efforts in image processing have been spectacular and deserve to be published in an astronomy magazine! Your artistry has been amazing and helped brighten up our control room, while the stories, videos and imaginings of visits to the Red Planet have been awesome.

The main thing that’s stood out to us is the passion and enthusiasm that you’ve all shown. That has really made us proud and we’re very glad that this opportunity (conjunction season!) to get so many VMC images came up. We’re planning to have another webcast in September, once the final two projects are in, to go through each of your projects and give you all some feedback.

Thank you all for the effort you’ve put in and we hope that if we manage to do anything similar in the future that you’ll all take part again.

Herewith, we are tremendously delighted (and I dare say just a little proud!) to present (in alphabetical order) the first sets of results and projects from ESA’s VMC Imaging Campaign.


Associazione Astronomica Antares, Foligno, Italy
Target: Cavi Angusti

Analysis of atmosphere and ice cap

AIM: The chosen region of Mars (Cavi Angusti, a latin name as almost all the geological Mars structures) is located in the south polar region of the Red planet, and is characterized by vast and deep valleys where the thin atmosphere of Mars can produce fogs or mists with daily development. The Mars Express spacecraft passed several times over Cavi Angusti at a distance of about 3000 km, at different times of Martian days, thus allowing us to study the area with a detail of a few kilometres, enough to reveal any cloud formations.

VMC Schools Campaign - results from Antares Foligno

VMC Schools Campaign – results from Antares Foligno

Results from Antares Foligno

Results from Antares Foligno


Aspiration Creation, Dunwoody, GA, USA
Target: South Pole

Project report: The South Pole – A Comparison/Contrast of Planets Earth and Mars During Summer Solstice

Project PPT in website

  • Our images are of Mars’ South Pole in Summer
  • We separated into groups to research the south poles of Mars and Earth, focusing on Summer
  • Each group was responsible for finding information (and pictures) and becoming the Subject Expert on that information
  • Subject Experts took notes and were required to explain their findings to the rest of the larger group
  • Everyone collaborated to aggregate findings into a list
  • Final list was used to create a Venn Diagram illustrating differences and similarities
Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation

Aspiration Creation


Curiosity Laboratory, Asociacion Codec de Madrid, Spain
Target: SHARP MOUNTAIN (where Curiosity landed)

AIM: We would like also to reflect, using the images facilitated by ESA, on the challenges that exploring our dear red planet pose, and on how they can be overcome so that men can get to Mars.

We have used your Mars images about Aeolis Mons in our “space and robotic project” with our children in CODEC. Please, find our latest video “Arriving Mars 2020“, performing the whole Mars missions! And with this CURIOSITY LAB FINAL VIDEO we would like to complete our project with ESA. THANK YOU and ESA so much for all this fantastic images!


Hathern Primary School,  Leicestershire, UK
Target: Meridian I Planum

AIM: To investigate the conclusion that water was present on Mars looking at surface features such as hematite. Investigate extremophiles present on Earth that may have been present on Mars both in the watery past, and present dry conditions. Come to conclusions about what bio signatures may be present to provide evidence of former or current life. Draw and make artistic representations of life on Mars. Write a poem about life on Mars.

Project PPT

Project art

Project art in Flickr

Slide35Hathern School art

Hathern School art

mars art images_Page_22Slide45


HTBLA Kaindorf, Kaindorf an der Sulm, Austria
Target: Martian Northpole

AIM: Image the Northpole, because we want to find the best landing site for a manned mission. In winter Planum Boreum’s permanent ice cap consisting mainly of water ice and carbondioxid reaches its maximum. So we can find ground without ice to land on, but has water nearby.

Project website (EN): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/

Project website (DE): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/indexDE.html

Project website (ES): http://www.htl-kaindorf.at/mars/indexES.html

Life on MarsClick for a fabulous animation!ESA_Animation40 October 2043:: The best ‘glimpse of the future’ we’ve seen! How an astronaut will view Mars, courtesy of the Mars Express VMC and HTBLA Kaindorf.


Innovation Centre Mill of Knowledge, Toruń, Poland Target: System of canyons: Valles Marineris (Location: 13.8S, 59.2W)

AIM: This is interesting because: the Valles Marineris rift system is one of the larger canyons of the Solar System and stretches for nearly a quarter of the planet’s circumference. It has been recently suggested that Valles Marineris is a large tectonic “crack” in the Martian crust. Most researchers agree that this formed as the crust thickened in the That is region to the west, and was subsequently widened by erosion. However, near the eastern flanks of the rift, there appear to be some channels that may have been formed by water or carbon dioxide. The Valles Marineris canyon system is is such a great example of the planet’s tectonic activity and place of geological processes occurrence. In addition, it is possible that in these canyons once flowed water and this could be a friendly place for the emergence and development of life on Mars. Project PPT Project video Project images in Flickr      VMC Schools Workshop, Poland


IES Alpujarra, Spain
Target: Olympus Mons or whichever frustum-like mountain whose dimensions are well known and easily available

AIM: Kids will firstly work out the picture scale using data available on the Internet and the picture itself. Secondly, they’ll calculate some distances in a straight line and the dimensions and areas of some shapes that may be found on the picture. Thirdly, we’ll try to determine some slopes on the picture to work out an average. Finally, we’ll calculate the approximate area and volume of Mount Olympus thinking of it as a frustum. The results will be presented in English.

Project webpage:

IES Alpujarra - ESA

IES Alpujarra – ESA

Student worksheet:


Out of This World Space Program, Marietta, GA USA
Target: Elysium Mons

Aim: Convert picture to a 3D scaled model and present it to the Science lab or make a puzzle with the picture or make posters that we could place in a local park to teach the general public about the awesomeness of Mars and ESA.

Project PPT

Artemis13 from Mt. Bethel Media Center on Vimeo.


State Gymnasium No. 1, Riga, Latvia
Target: Ares Vallis (19.13 N, 33.22 W), located in the northern hemisphere or Mars

AIM: This is a great target because:

  1. Its a very large feature(1700km diameter). and easily noticeable
  2. It is possible it was carved by fluids from when Mars still had liquid water on its surface. There are numerous estuaries and deltas of past rivers.
  3. Large amount of craters
  4. The NASA probe Pathfinder sits in Ares Vallis.
  5.  Mark Watney, the character from the popular fictional book “The Martian” travels through Ares Vallis and even recovers the Pathfinder
  6. Last time Mars Express took photos of the Valleys was back in 2007

Card


Sterrenwacht de Polderster, Assenede, Belgium Target: Phillips crater

AIM: Would like to do astrophoto processsing. The height (1900km) of the spacecraft is not too low. Images of 200ms must be possible to resolve. 15-146-VMC merge 48-66 10ms with labels PV and SL

CardCard

Processed images via Flickr


Sternwarte Siebengebirge e.V., Bad Honnef, Germany
Target: Olympus Mons / Tharsis region, Volcanoes

AIM: By participating in the VMC Imaging Campaign we aim to achieve:

  • The inspiration and enthusiasm of children, adolescents and adults in the subject of space, astronomy, space travel, ESA and in particular the Mars Express mission
  • The wider publication and awareness of the Mars Express research results, also through our own publications
  • The promotion of scientific knowledge about our neighboring planet Mars
  • The combination of science and art
  • The promotion of our present knowledge of the volcanoes on Mars in comparison with the volcanic past of the Siebengebirge and the nearby Vulkan-Eifel
  • The awareness of our new club by a wider audience
  • Raising public awareness of our aim to create a planet park and a stationary observatory in the Siebengebirge nature reserve.

Project website

Sternwarte Siebengebirge

Sternwarte Siebengebirge

RESULTS TBC: The club jury will view the works of art from the participating schools and select the most striking piece. The award to the best work of art will take place at a public exhibition. The school being awarded first place will be presented with a new telescope for educational use. Thereafter there will be a presentation on the subject of the VMC Imaging Campaign, Olympus Mons and volcanoes on Mars and on Earth (in particular in the Siebengebirge region).


Children’s Club Reegulus, University of Tartu Museum, Old Observatory, Tartu, Estonia, Target: Terra Meridiani

AIM: Our project is called “Picture can say more than a thousand words.” Our aim is to see what are the thousand words we can say about the picture in order to discuss with the children the ways in which we can study other planets in comparison to our own. We would like to use the image to study Martian landscape in detail with the children also with the help of geologists from the University of Tartu Natural History Museum. In addition to geology, we would also like to use the materials as part of the Struve Arc celebrations talking about mapping Earth and Mars. After we have discussed the features seen in the picture, the children will choose the thousand words to be featured on a poster with the picture. This poster will be shown in our museum for the public and we will introduce this also at a large festival taking place in July festival that also has a science section. We already have a programme for schools where we compare the atmospheres of Earth, Mars, Venus and Titan to each other and discuss why we should appreciate our environment.

Children's Club Reegulus

Poster display by Children’s Club Reegulus at Science Festival

Poster as displayed at the Tartu Science Festival

We printed out a number of images and posted them on a whiteboard. Then we began adding words and questions to the whiteboard: what we saw, what we knew and what else we needed to find out. We visited the University of Tartu Natural History Museum to find out about the geology of Mars. After the visit, we added more words, statements and questions to our board. During the final meeting we tried to answer as much questions as possible with the aid of literature and internet and decided on the content of the poster. The poster was finished for a science festival we had in Tartu in July 2015 and the visitors of the festival were able to read it. We also filmed the whole process but unfortunately were not able to secure everyone’s permission to publish this.  Perhaps we will do a trailer version later.

The poster gives an overview of Mars that is based mostly on what we saw from the images and the questions that came to our mind while looking at the pictures. The children were most fascinated about the volcanoes, the possibility of life on Mars and, of course, when will we land a human on Mars.

Reegulus_Marss2


Update 1 June

Today’s update from Spacecraft Operations Engineer Simon Wood on the MEX team at ESOC on progress of the VMC Schools Campaign.

Sorting the ~2000 VMC Schools Campaign images is going well. We’ve got an initial collation of the images for each school / group done now. The sets are being double checked for accuracy.

Mars limb seen in VMC image 15-147_09.53.42_VMC_Img_No_8, acquired 27 May. Credit: ESA/Mars/Express/VMC - ESA - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Mars limb seen in VMC image 15-147_09.53.42_VMC_Img_No_8, acquired 27 May. Credit: ESA/Mars/Express/VMC – ESA – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

There’s a bit of disappointing news: there are a couple of requested imaging targets that didn’t work out very well, either because of the dust or the lighting conditions, or because the image just simply doesn’t show the target too well. For these, we will dig through the VMC archive and provide some better quality VMC images from past observations that do show the requested target adequately.

Editor’s note: We expect to start mailing images within a couple working days. 🙂

Comet Siding Spring imaged by HRSC on board Mars Express

Comet Siding Spring came extraordinarily close to Mars as it whizzed by on 19 October 2014. The celestial body – a mere 500 metres in diameter – passed the Red Planet at a distance of just 137 000 kilometres, where it was observed by several spacecraft in orbit around Mars. The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA’s Mars Express, also acquired a series of images with its SRC channel during Mars Express orbit 13710.

This animation combines multiple images that were acquired by the HRSC camera on board Mars Express during the comet Siding Spring flyby on 19 October 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

This animation combines multiple images that were acquired by the HRSC camera on board Mars Express during the comet Siding Spring flyby on 19 October 2014. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

As it flew by, Siding Spring was travelling at a velocity of around 56 kilometres per second relative to Mars. Images were acquired at 17-second intervals; the spatial resolution is 17 kilometres per pixel. The images show the comet nucleus as well as the surrounding dust and gas cloud (coma).

Comet Siding Spring originates from the Oort Cloud, a comet ‘reservoir’ in the outer reaches of the Solar System. The comet was named after the Australian Observatory at which it was originally discovered back in 2013, and has the scientific designation C/2013 A1. As comets approach the Sun, one or two tails composed of gas and dust or ionised gases form on the side facing away from the Sun. As it whizzed by the planet, Siding Spring’s tail penetrated the Martian atmosphere, where it was analysed by the particle detector ASPERA-3 on board Mars Express, among others.

Scientists hope to use the data acquired, as well as the spectrometer measurements conducted at the same time, to gain an insight into the comet’s composition. It is thought that comets may contain material dating back to the formation of the Solar System.

Seen from the UK, via Oz!

Excellent view by an astronomer in the UK, imaging the comet and Mars via the iTelescope.net virtual telescope at Siding Spring. In the image, both Siding Spring and Mars can be seen this morning at about 11:30CEST. Great work, M. Mobberley!

Mars & comet Siding Spring seen today

An excellent view of Mars and Comet Siding Spring comprising several separate images captured by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA, this morning around 01:00 UTC (03:00CEST). More images and links to live feeds via the CIOC Siding Spring Facebook group.

Mars and Siding Spring seen on the day of their closest approach by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA. Image & live feeds via https://www.facebook.com/groups/cioc.sidingspring/

Mars and Siding Spring seen on the day of their closest approach, 19 October 2014, by Scott Ferguson, Florida, USA. Image & live feeds via https://www.facebook.com/groups/cioc.sidingspring/

#MarsComet and Mars seen 1 day prior to cosmic graze by

An excellent image showing both #MarsComet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and the Red Planet in the same view, as they are now close enough together as seen from Earth. The beauty of this image belies the technical challenge of imaging both a faint comet and the (relatively) bright planet. Well done, James!

Comet Siding Spring and Mars seen one day prior to the comet's closest approach on 19 Oct 2014 at 18:27UTC. Image acquired from iTelescope Siding Spring, Australia. Credit: James Willinghan

Comet Siding Spring and Mars seen one day prior to the comet’s closest approach on 19 Oct 2014 at 18:27UTC. Image acquired from iTelescope Siding Spring, Australia. Credit: James Willinghan

 

 

Mars, Siding Spring and Mars Express

OK, well… you can’t actually see Mars Express – but it’s there! And you can see the Red Planet and Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring very, very well in this image taken by Kos Coronaios, 12 October, at 17:30 UTC. Great work, Kos!

Image taken from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Credit: K. Coronosias

Image taken from the Soutpansberg Astronomy Club in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Credit: K. Coronosias

Comet Siding Spring seen with Mars

An excellent photo showing comet Siding Spring and Mars in the same image, with the close flyby location marked with red arrows. Many thanks and well done to Rob Kaufman, Victoria, Australia.

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars, 11 Oct 2014. Credit: Rob Kaufman

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring and Mars, 11 Oct 2014. Credit: Rob Kaufman

This image shared via the Facebook page of the Coordinated Investigations Of Comets (CIOC) Siding Spring group – thanks guys!

Mars and Moon seen together

Today’s post was contributed by Michael Khan, who blogs on all things spacey over at Scilogs.de. He’s contributed updates to several ESA blogs in the past.

This summer is bringing some interesting Mars observation opportunities.

Nothing as mundane as a mere ‘encounter’ between our Moon and Mars was included in those suggestions, but such encounters do occur, and they do constitute great photo ops for astrophotographers. Case in point: 7 June, when only a few degrees separated the Red Planet and Earth’s companion. (Keep in mind that we are talking about apparent encounters here: the Moon and Mars appear to be in the same location of the sky, but of course, at all times, Mars will be at least 53 millions and sometimes 400 million kilometres distant). 

This particular encounter was not all that close – about two and a half degrees, or five times the apparent size the Moon. But it definitely looked close, and it was a pretty sight too. The tiny reddish orb contrasted very nicely with the Moon’s grey bulk. 

For every type of observation, there is an ideal telescope. If a large field of view is required, the focal distance must be short. Such a telescope can be surprisingly compact, as this 2-inch, 330-mm refractor demonstrates.

For every type of observation, there is an ideal telescope. If a large field of view is required, the focal distance must be short. Such a telescope can be surprisingly compact, as this 2-inch, 330-mm refractor demonstrates.

You need a telescope with a short focal length and therefore a wide field of view to see both objects. Anything less than 400 mm works. Some astronomers regard such telescopes as mere toys, of use perhaps as a finder scope. But there are times where they are handy. This was one such instance. You can attach your camera to the telescope via an adapter, thus using the telescope like a telephoto lens. Alternatively, if you have a good telephoto lens, you might just as well use that. 

The trick is to find an exposure time that will do both bodies justice, once you have your gear in focus and pointing in the right direction. You can take off the camera and enjoy the scene with an eyepiece. No problem there – the human eye can process enormous differences in contrast. But digital cameras can’t. Try a short exposure time and the Moon will come out all right but Mars will be so faint that you can barely see it; certainly you won’t be able to see its colour. Then try a long exposure time (no too long or your image will be blurred) and Mars will come out nice and red but the Moon will appear a white blob, drowning out its surroundings.

In the end, you may find that getting a satisfactory picture (one that resembles what you just saw through the eyepiece), requires some cheating. Take two images – the first with a short exposure time, so the Moon looks right and the second with a longer exposure time, for Mars. Then you load both into an image processing tool on your computer (nowadays, very powerful software is available as freeware, choose the one you prefer), cut the area around Mars out of image 2 and paste it at the appropriate location in image 1. Make sure the background colours are right so one can’t see where the pasting took place. 

That’s all there is to it. It’s not really cheating as long as you took both images yourself and as long as you don’t hide the fact that this is a composite image. The people who make those pictures for the glossy magazines cheat a lot more than that. Anyway. What you should easily get is something like what I got, or better:

Moon and Mars seen over Darmstadt on 7 June 2014 at 22:18 CEST (composite). Telescope: 50/330 ED-Doublet TSED503 || Camera: Canon EOS 600D, ISO 800 || Moon aperture: 1/640 s || Mars aperture: 1/125s - Credit: Michael Khan

Moon and Mars seen over Darmstadt on 7 June 2014 at 22:18 CEST (composite). Telescope: 50/330 ED-Doublet TSED503 || Camera: Canon EOS 600D, ISO 800 || Moon exposure: 1/640 s || Mars exposure: 1/125s – Credit: Michael Khan

The telescope I used is a small refractor (it uses lenses, not mirrors) with a focal length of 330 mm and an aperture of 50 mm. The camera was a standard retail Canon 600D. The camera is attached directly to the telescope with a special adapter called a ‘T2-ring’ and then the telescope is mounted onto a sturdy tripod. With an ISO setting of 800, the Moon image was exposed at 1/640 s, the Mars image at 1/125 s. That’s very much like standard photography. No extremely long exposure times required. 

Anyone who can take a picture with a DSLR can do this. So, what are you waiting for? Go out at night. Take pictures. Just do it!

Mars Express, Phobos and the occult … ation

Today’s post contributed by Michael Khan, a mission analyst at ESOC and an avid amateur astronomer – Ed.

Imagine you’re playing Scrabble. The tiles on your rack don’t look as if there is much you could do with them. No vowels. Three ‘Y’s, a ‘Z’, and a ‘G’. Oh no! You might as well pass and exchange all tiles for new ones, Right?

You think you're good at online Scrabble? Well, I just put "syzygy" on the board - see if you can beat that! Credit: E. Yourdon CC BY-NC-SA

You think you’re good at online Scrabble? Well, I just put “syzygy” on the board – see if you can beat that! Credit: E. Yourdon CC BY-NC-SA

Wrong! (Don’t quit yet!)

Just look for a letter ‘S’ somewhere on the game board and you can append five of your tiles to spell the word SYZYGY (preferably such that it covers a triple word score). Thus you get rid of the ‘Z’ and the ‘Y’s and you earn heaps of points. There will be complaints around the table, but you can relax and let them complain: You really cleaned their clocks with this one. You win!

In astronomy, a syzygy defines a situation where at least three bodies are aligned. Eclipses, such as the 15 April lunar eclipse, are a perfect example of a syzygy in action.

Via Flickr E. Yourdon

In spacecraft operations, syzygies abound, and our Mars Express is no exception. Often, they are regarded as an unavoidable nuisance. When the spacecraft passes through the shadow of Mars and has to run on batteries, that is a syzygy of Mars Express, Mars and the Sun. When MEX is occulted by Mars and communications are interrupted, that is a syzygy of MEX, Mars and the Earth.

Other syzygies, however, offer real science opportunities. Stellar occultations by bodies in the Solar System have led to very important scientific discoveries.

To name but a few: