A super-nice note and team photo sent in by the Mars Express flight control team at ESOC! This was written by Luke Lucas, on behalf of the team who fly ESA's venerable Mars mission – now looking forward to a new buddy in orbit!
Mars Express has been orbiting Mars for just over 12 years, and soon will be joined by another ESA explorer. The excitement is building here at ESOC as the final preparations for the ExoMars launch are made.
MEX Flight Control Team at ESOC Credit: ESA
Recently, teams from industry, the science community and ESTEC have been arriving; and here at ESOC, the simulation campaign is drawing to a close. The simulation campaign involves the flight control team (FCT), practising and practising the launch and other mission phases using a spacecraft simulator (computer program). The ExoMars team will have practised nominal and contingency operations, ensuring that procedures are ready and – most critically – that the FCT are as prepared as possible to successfully operate the spacecraft.
The ExoMars dress rehearsal is set for tomorrow; then, the next time the team are in the Main Control Room it will be for actual launch and real telemetry from the very real spacecraft, not a simulator...
Any launch is a mixture of high pressure and great excitement. An unforgettable occasion!
We wish the ExoMars team all the best and look forward to greeting a fellow explorer at Mars.
Get ready to do a lot of scrolling! This is our biggest, baddest blog post ever! #VMCSchools
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 PPTProject videoProject images in Flickr
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.
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.
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).
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.
Poster display by Children's Club Reegulus at 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.
This is a collage of Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) images acquired on 25 May and downloaded to Earth early on 26 May 2015. They are among the first in a series of over 2000 images that are being acquired by Mars Express in support of the VMC Schools Campaign!
Collage of Mars Express VMC images acquired 25 May 2015 Credit: ESA/Mars Express/VMC – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
We wanted to share a low-resolution mash-up with you, just so you knew 'your' images are being delivered! The complete image sets, at full VMC 640X480 resolution will be delivered to campaign participants starting as early as Friday this week.
We often refer to VMC as the 'Mars Webcam' since the images it takes are comparable in resolution and colour depth to those of a standard home webcam that you would have bought from your local PC store back in 2003 when the spacecraft was launched.
However don't let the Webcam tag fool you! It's a serious piece of kit with a very real engineering purpose.
That purpose is to help overcome one of the challenges faced when flying spacecraft: we can't actually see them.
We overcome this problem by having huge amounts of telemetry data transmitted back to us here on Earth to give us details about what every component on board the spacecraft is doing.
However, this telemetry is in effect just numbers on our computer screens that come from the sensors all over the spacecraft.
For example, if we were to command the solar arrays to turn, we can say that we can 'see the arrays turning'. What we really mean is that on the mission control system computer screen, we can see that the parameters that correspond to readings from sensors on the solar array drive motors reporting that the voltage going to the motors is changing, and that the power being consumed by the motors is changing. Finally, we can see that the power being generated by the arrays themselves is also changing. The changing numbers on the screen are all we have to go on.
This is a limitation we accept as part of sending things out into space and operating them remotely. It also shows why the telemetry sent back to the mission control centre is so vital to understanding what the spacecraft is actually doing.
However, there are occasions on some missions where an activity considered so critical that telemetry alone is not enough, we need to be able to really see – visually – what is going on so we can be sure it has worked correctly, or if there is a problem, to be able to see what has happened to enable us to try and fix it.
This is where cameras like VMC come in. Indeed, the clue is in the name: VMC = Visual Monitoring Camera.
For Mars Express, the part of our mission that required the use of a camera was the release of the Beagle 2 Lander.
To enable Beagle 2 to reach its desired landing site it was necessary to detach the lander from Mars Express at a very precise time and in a precise speed and direction. So that we could check this, VMC was used to take a number of images during Beagle 2's departure from Mars Express.
Separation of Beagle 2
These images were then analysed by the flight dynamics team here at ESOC who were able to work out from them that the release had gone perfectly and Beagle 2 was on the correct course for the surface.
Mars Express is not the only ESA spacecraft to be fitted with a monitoring camera.
The 4 Cluster spacecraft were launched in pairs with one spacecraft attached to the other. The top spacecraft in each pair was fitted with a camera.
This was used to monitor the crucial point at which the 2 spacecraft separated from each other. As this happened in low earth orbit the pictures that were very spectacular.
The XMM space telescope also has monitoring cameras installed. they are looking along the spacecraft towards the service module.
They are aimed in this direction as their purpose was to allow the flight control team to check the unfolding of the spacecraft's solar arrays.
Sentinel 1a which was launched last year has cameras to check the deployment of both the solar panels and its long radar boom. Finally, Whilst not a simple monitoring camera, Rosetta used its main science camera to image the Philae lander as it departed for the surface of 67P.
This was far more than just a good bye image from one spacecraft to another as this was able to show the lander team that Philae's landing gear had unfolded correctly. -- Simon Wood
Spacecraft Operations Engineer, Mars Express
Information for schools, astronomy clubs, science centres and any other eligible group wishing to take part. Official hashtag: #vmcschools
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 04:24 CEST on 22 September 2014. This image was acquired by the low-resolution VMC camera on board Mars Express at 14:50 CEST on 20 September, when MAVEN was an estimated 312,000 km from Mars. Credit: ESA/MEX/VMC
Mars is approaching solar conjunction where it will be on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth; this will affect communication with the spacecraft for a period of about five weeks and so science observations have to be stopped.
For this particular Solar conjunction, running for about five weeks between 28 May and 1 July, the Mars Express team will be stopping science four days earlier than usual for operational reasons. Part of this time is to be used to run tests on spacecraft subsystems, but we have an exciting plan with what to do with the remainder! (See details via Why conjunction frees up VMC time?)
How would you like to be a scientist on a Mars mission?
We would like to offer the opportunity for about eight (final number depends on the proposed targets) schools or other youth clubs/organisations to propose observations to be performed with the VMC camera (in principle, almost any large feature on the martian surface can be imaged) and then complete and submit a project report with their results; we'll publish them here in the MEX blog. (See official announcement plus link to terms, conditions and the registration form here.)
The closing date for proposals is 12:00 CET on 27 March 2015 – which is not far off, so you’ll need to work quickly if you wish to be involved.
So what do you need to know?
First of all, you need to understand a bit about the VMC camera. It is our most basic instrument, being basically a low-resolution webcam that was originally only to be used to record the release of the Beagle 2 lander. Since then, we have used it to take some very impressive images of Mars, its moons and atmosphere as well as other planets. Although lacking the extreme resolution of the professional HRSC camera on board Mars Express, it does allow the entire martian disk to be observed in a single image. Go through our Flickr library to get a good idea of what we can do with it.
The VMC webcam provides images of Mars having about the same quality as those provided by the ESA/NASA HUbble telescope. Image credit: ESA/Mars Express/VMC/ Humboldt Gymnasium, Vaterstetten
In fact, VMC provides images of Mars having about the same resolution and quality as those obtained by the 'professional' ESA/NASA Hubble orbiting observatory!
Next, you need to know a bit about the orbit of Mars Express. We don’t expect you to attempt any of the incredible mathematics that our Flight Dynamics team here at ESOC perform on a routine basis, do but you need to understand that Mars Express has a highly elliptical orbit, which – combined with the rotation of Mars – means that not all of the planet's surface will be visible to the camera during the available observing slots during 25-27 May.
Take a look at the VMC full-orbit animation, derived from Celestia, which is a great way to visualise what VMC can see during 25-27 May.
You will also need to know a bit (but not too much!) about Mars Express. Keep in mind that although we are inviting you to point Mars Express at a target of your choice (the VMC camera is fixed in position, so to point it, we slew the entire craft), we have many rules and restrictions for ensuring the safety of the spacecraft that cannot be violated.
We will take care of this within the MEX flight control team here at ESOC for you, but there are a few obvious things that you need not request, such as pointing toward the Sun or asking for two targets in quick succession (we avoid turning the spacecraft too quickly). Also, as Mars (and hence Mars Express) is almost at its furthest distance from Earth, the amount of data we can return is very limited (which is why the professional instrument payload is being switched off in the first place), and so we will not accept any long observation proposals (this also enables a larger number of short observation slots, giving as many schools or clubs as possible an opportunity to carry out observations).
The Red Planet
Some knowledge of Mars is also important – as we assume that is at what you will be pointing VMC. In principle, you could request to point VMC away from Mars, but, as it is a low-resolution device, we don't think you'll see that much (we did get a misty shot of Earth one time!). We will leave this for you to research on your own. There are many sources of information on the Main ESA website, the Internet and in your library that you will want to look in to in order to come up with a good proposal.
Emily Lakdawalla, from the Planetary Society, has posted online a series of excellent tutorials on working with space images, including the VMC. And you can find all archived VMC images for practice via the Mars Webcam blog and Flickr.
... and the fine print
Mars Express is an operational mission, and considerations of spacecraft safety and the primary professional science mission always come first. We may have to amend, change, or cancel the VMC Imaging Campaign at any time, or there may be some other reason why we can't carry out your requested observation(s). But the slots on 25-27 May are looking good and we will do our best!
Tweet with the hashtag #vmcschools or post a query in the blog
So, what can you propose?
What do you think you can do? Would you like to get a close-up image of a certain feature (Olympus Mons?), or observe the whole of Mars? Are you going to work with raw VMC data or use the processed images? Can you identify certain features or landforms and explain what is going on? What caused them? We aren't necessarily looking for the cleverest or most innovative observation proposals, but we will select eight (or so) good ones that we can fit together in to our observation window and that provide the best scientific, artistic or educational merit.
So, if you would like to take part in this extremely rare opportunity to briefly 'take charge' of a spacecraft around another world, make a plan and submit your proposals. Time is short and we know that there are many enthusiastic people – teachers, students, artists, young amateur astronomers and many more – out there with great ideas. Best of luck and we look forward to hearing from you!
Editor's note: Thanks to Andy Johnstone & Michel Denis for this post
19 March – #ESAHangout via Google+ – Mars Express mission team will provide a tutorial on the VMC and how its images are planned & acquired
27 March – Deadline for registered groups to submit final proposal (12:00 CET)
8 May – #ESAHangout via Google+ – the Mars Express mission team will announce accepted observation targets
25-27 May – VMC imaging!
28 May (+/-) – VMC images downloaded and delivered to participant groups
End of current academic year or 31 July, which ever comes first – All participant groups must submit project report
We asked Michael Khan, working at ESA's Mission Analysis Office at ESOC, what he would select as targets for VMC. His comments and some very useful charts are below – Ed.
Potential observation targets
Here are a series of charts that indicate when/where MEX will be in relation to a selection of nine surface features (click for full size). These indicate the ground track, time, the range and the elevation for Mars Express (and hence the VMC) with respect to nine select features.
The ground track of the Mars Express spacecraft from 25 through 27 May. Where the red line is vertical, the spacecraft is passing its closest point to Mars, at around 250 km over the surface. Conversely, where the line is canted, the spacecraft is near the farthest point out on its elliptical orbit. This diagram shows the entire ground track - however, some of the ground track also passes over the Martian night, when the regions directly below are dark. Credit: ESA/M. Khan
The local solar time is the current actual time at a given Mars location. In late May, it just so happens that the orbit is oriented such that most passes occur in the local morning hours, with very few passes (those that occur when the spacecraft is closest to Mars) in the late afternoon. Credit: ESA/M. Khan
For the nine sample locations, the range (distance from the location to Mars Express) is shown for 25-27 May. Ideally, to obtain bright, high-resolution images, the elevation (see http://bit.ly/1MbUteQ) should be high and the range should be low, though this combination may be difficult to obtain. Credit: ESA/M. Khan
For nine sample locations on Mars, the elevation at which the spacecraft passes overhead, 25-27 May, is shown. Only those overflights where the Sun is up at each of the respective locations are taken into account. The higher the elevation, the better the observation conditions. For 90-deg elevation, Mars Express would be directly overhead. Credit: ESA/M. Khan
Two proposals from my side, based on my results:
Eos Chasma on 2015/5/28, around 07:00 UTC at <2000 km range and up to 65 deg elevation. Arguably, pretty!
Elysium Planitia and Elysium Mons on 2015/5/26 around 16:00 at <1200 km range and up to 45 deg elevation, and again on 2015/5/27 at 18:00 UTC at <2000 km range and up to 55 deg elevation. This area is the one where Mars Express saw the 'frozen sea' 10 years ago. It is also the landing region of NASA's Insight Spacecraft in September 2016.
The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This close-up image has been sharpened to show possible details of the Beagle-2 lander on the surface of Mars.Credit: HiRISE/NASA/JPL/Parker/Leicester
The big news today is the discovery, courtesy of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), of the UK-led Beagle 2 lander on the surface of Mars.
Beagle 2 was meant to parachute to the surface of Mars in December 2003, but after separation, the small craft was never heard from again.
In 2014, remains of Beagle 2 were spotted by the HiRise camera on board MRO; the images and full details are here.
We thought you might enjoy seeing some archive pics of Beagle, so we gathered a selection of images showing the craft on Earth, during launch and its last-ever view seen from Mars Express from space (by the VMC camera), just after separation on 19 Dec 2003.
The UK-led Beagle 2 was due to land on Mars on 25 December 2003. The spacecraft was ejected from Mars Express on 19 December 2003. Nothing had been heard from Beagle 2 and the mission was presumed lost. Until now.
It has now been announced that the Mars Lander has been identified partially deployed on the surface of Mars by images taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). These images show potential targets on the surface of Mars for the lander and key entry and descent components within the expected landing area.
Following analysis by members of the Beagle 2 team, which includes Leicester scientists, and NASA, the images show the Beagle 2 lander in what appears to be a partially deployed configuration with the main parachute and what is thought to be the rear cover close by.
Several interpretations of the image of the lander have been identified, consistent with the lander’s size and shape and changes in light reflections suggest that the object is metallic – again consistent with Beagle 2.
Following its arrival at the Red Planet in December 2003, imagery from ESA’s Mars Express mission has proved immensely popular, with the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board the spacecraft playing a major role.
Since January 2004, ESA and its partners at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB) have been jointly publishing colour, stereo pictures of the martian surface from orbit, both still and moving. For example, a “Mars showcase” video, comprised of HRSC images, has been viewed almost 700,000 times since it was published on ESA’s Youtube channel in 2013.
But starting today, something is different with these regular image releases: in a joint undertaking by all three partners, Mars Express HRSC images will be made available under a Creative Commons (CC) licence. The licence we will apply is the same one we recently introduced for Rosetta NAVCAM images: CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, with credit to ESA/DLR/FU Berlin. In practical terms it will look like this:
And as luck would have it, we have a Mars Express HRSC movie release today which becomes the first to be covered by this Creative Commons licence:
Please read the full article on the ESA web portal here.
The licence will also be applied retroactively to all HRSC images released to date. As with Rosetta NAVCAM images, please bear with us as it will take a while to go back and change the credit lines for all of those images in our online galleries. But as a start, we have applied the new licencing to all HRSC images in our Mars Express Flickr album.
While at ESA we have only just begun releasing content under Creative Commons licences, our partners at DLR have been using CC as their standard licencing policy since 2012. Nevertheless, there is still something just a little bit special about the news today: as far as we know, it is the first time that three public organisations in Europe have teamed up in licencing a batch of joint content under Creative Commons.
For more in-depth info on ESA’s implementation of the CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO licence, please also read this blog post that I wrote with my colleague Mark McCaughrean.
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
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.
Image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) at 4.8 arcminutes from Mars, as seen on 2014 October 19 at 20:20 UT via ESA's Optical Ground Station, equipped with a 1-meter telescope, on Tenerife, Canary Islands. North is to the left of the frame. The comet was imaged under poor sky conditions, while it was 17° above the southwestern horizon. High humidity and strong winds also affected the image quality, giving a "fuzzy" appearance to the nearby stars.
Comet C/2013 A1 seen from ESA's Optical Ground Station, Teide Observatory, Tenerife, on 19 Oct 2014 at 20:19:46UT (22:19:46CEST). Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu
For anyone who didn't find the comet in the full frame image above, here's a cropped version with the comet marked!
Mars is, of course, much brighter than Siding Spring - here, it's marked in red. Credit: ESA/M. Micheli/D. Abreu
On 31 March 2013, not long after it was discovered, astronomers observed Comet Siding Spring with Herschel. This was just one month before the observatory exhausted its supply of liquid helium coolant and ceased to collect data. When Herschel observed it, the comet was about 6.5 AU from the Sun. The observations were performed following a proposal for Director’s Discretionary Time from Peter Mattisson from the Stockholm Amateur Astronomers (STAR) in Sweden.
These three images show emission from the dust in the coma surrounding the nucleus of Comet C/2013 A1 – also known as Comet Siding Spring – as observed at three different far-infrared wavelengths with ESA's Herschel space observatory. Credit: SA/Herschel/PACS/Cs. Kiss et al. 2014