During Mars' geological 'Middle Ages' – the Hesperian Period – which began 3.7 billion years ago and lasted until approximately 3.1 billion years ago, strong volcanic activity was present on our neighbouring planet. Volcanoes spewed low viscosity lava that poured out in masses over the surface and gave rise to extensive plains.
"In your face, Neil Armstrong!" – as he says these words, NASA astronaut Mark Watney senses for the first time that he might have only a very small chance of getting out of his predicament alive. Watney is 'The Martian' in the film of the same name (release date in Germany: 8 October) who, in a not too distant future, finds himself stranded on the Red Planet.
The primary task of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft is to acquire high-resolution image data for the mapping of Mars. For this purpose, the optical system is normally directed perpendicular to the surface of the planet.
Nine seconds is not a lot – those who are nine seconds late for an appointment are, so to speak, on time. But when it comes to the rotation of a planet around its own axis, nine seconds is not insignificant. On Mercury, this means that a spot at the equator would, in four years, not be where one would expect it to be; it would have shifted by 700 metres.
The lower the Dawn space probe flies over the dwarf planet Ceres with its on-board camera, the more puzzling – and exciting – the celestial body appears. “Some of the things we are seeing have never been seen anywhere else in the Solar System,” says Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Except for on Earth.” Dawn is now looking down onto the surface of Ceres from an altitude of just 1470 kilometres. The first images acquired from its High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) show a ‘pyramid’ with unusual landslides, unstable crater walls and chains of mountains. “We can only speculate about these things at the moment.” Where the bright stripes along the pyramid-shaped mountain come from and whether the surface of the dwarf planet is comprised of different materials are questions that the planetary researchers are still trying to answer.
For weeks, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been active, hurling dust and gas into space – but it will not reach the closest point to the Sun in its orbit, the perihelion, until 13 August 2015 at exactly 4:03 CEST. It will take another six-and-a-half years to get this close to the Sun once again.
Countless myths have been woven around the legendary realm of Atlantis. Circa 350 BC, the philosopher Plato depicted a maritime power situated in Atlantis that controlled broad areas of Europe and Africa. It was most likely an island whose inhabitants ruled over the people living in the multiple regions bordering the Mediterranean.
On 12 November 2014, as the Philae lander slowly descended onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the first instruments on board began to take measurements. Philae touched down three times during the first ever landing on a comet, scraped against a crater rim, and finally arrived at the unforeseen landing site, called Abydos, at 18:31 CEST.
On 9 July 2015 at 19:45 CEST, Philae reported back to the team at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center (LCC) – only to then go back to 'silent mode'. Since then, the team has been working hard to get back in contact with the lander and operate it to conduct scientific measurements.
The Philae lander communicated with the Rosetta orbiter again between 19:45 and 20:07 CEST on 9 July 2015 and transmitted measurement data from the COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission (CONSERT) instrument. Although the connection failed repeatedly after that, it remained completely stable for those 12 minutes.
Geology is a fairly young science when compared with physics, mathematics or astronomy. Emerging from the quest for natural resources and ores, it developed into an independent field of research only in the last few centuries.
Despite a new trajectory for Rosetta and a reduction of the distance between the orbiter and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from 200 to 180 kilometres, contact with the Philae lander remains irregular and short. After the initial contact on 13 June 2015, Philae has reported to the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center (LCC) in Cologne a total of six times.
Today, Mars appears bone-dry and dusty – but new analyses of Istok crater provide evidence of periodic flows of debris from its walls into its interior. "What is surprising is that it must have happened reasonably often," explains Ernst Hauber, a planetary researcher at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).
The Philae lander reported back on 14 June 2015. From 23:22 to 23:26 CEST, the lander sent some data packets that are now being evaluated at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). "But this time, the connection to the lander was relatively unstable," says DLR Philae Lander Project Leader Stephan Ulamec.
The Philae lander has reported back on 13 June 2015 at 22:28 (CEST), coming out of hibernation and sending the first data to Earth. More than 300 data packets have been analysed by the team at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center: "Philae is doing very well – it has an operating temperature of minus 35 degrees Celsius and has 24 watts of power available," explains DLR’s Philae Project Manager, Stephan Ulamec. "The lander is ready for operations." Philae 'spoke' for 85 seconds with its team on ground in its first contact since it went into hibernation.
The Dawn orbiter initially traced the path of the equator before crossing the north and south poles of Ceres. Researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have used the images acquired thus far with the Framing Camera on board the spacecraft and the first three-dimensional terrain models created from them to produce a virtual scenic flight over icy Ceres.
At present, the Siloe Patera construct in the Martian highlands is the cause of much debate among scientists. Is Siloe Patera actually the remains of a supervolcano? There is evidence to suggest this – but also evidence against it. It is a current example of an interesting geoscientific debate.
On our neighbouring planet Mars, it is mainly wind – through its force and the dust and sand particles it carries – that shapes the terrain structures, wearing them away over the course of millions of years.
Previously, images of Mars were available in strip format – strip by strip carefully flown with the European Mars Express spacecraft and processed into three-dimensional terrain models and perspective images. Now, planetary scientists, under the leadership of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have, for the first time, joined these individual 50 to 100 kilometre wide strips to create a single large-scale map.
Although from 28 March 2015, following difficulties with its star trackers and navigation system, the Rosetta orbiter is now following a new and more distant trajectory around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the team at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Lander Control Center (LCC) will begin listening again for signals from the Philae lander at 02:00 CET on 12 April 2015.