ExoMars Touchdown

On Saturday October 19, ExoMars is to land on Mars.

Space view of planets 2016 October 19

A space view, from 15° above the ecliptic plane, of the planets now visible in the evening sky, showing their paths in October and our sightlines to them at Oct. 19.  The planets are exaggerated 400 times in size, the Sun 5 times.  The dashed line is the equinox direction from the Sun, which Earth passed on Sep. 22.

The “Exo” part of the mission’s name means exobiology – life elsewhere than on Earth.  The purpose is a serious search for signs of water and the chemistry of life.

There are two parts.  The first was launched on March 14 and consists of TGO, the Trace Gas Orbiter, and Schiaparelli, the lander.  Oct. 19 is when TGO will “deliver” Schiaparelli to the surface.  Since TGO is the mother ship, “deliver” seems a doubly appropriate verb.  TGO, continuing in orbit, will map methane and other gases emitted from Mars’s surface, and Schiaparelli will test landing techniques for the second part of the mission.

This, to be launched in 2020, will in 2021 land a platform; down a ramp from it will crawl a rover, which, carrying a laboratory called Pasteur, will travel around looking for signs of life.

ExoMars is a joint project of Europe and Russia: of ESA, the European Space Agency, and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.  In Russian, the overall title appears as EkzoMars.  They’ve been planning it since 2007, and it is a mosaic: the 2020 platform, for instance, is Roscosmos-built and the rover ESA-built.  Scientists go on cooperating while their governments have to weigh the risks of shooting down each other’s planes over devastated Aleppo.

You can find out almost infinitely more about ExoMars online, for instance at the two participants’ websites, http://exploration.esa.int/mars/ and http://exomars.cosmos.ru/

My part is to show where you can see Mars in the evening sky.


I shall be in a different island universe from Saturday the 15th, returning (if the wormhole is still open) on the 19th in order to see whether ExoMars really did land.

Don’t forget to click the “Astronomical Calendar 2017” tab above and see whether anything has been added.


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