What's Up In Space? Take your own pictures from Mars orbit, watch ISS crew return home to Earth and auroras are poised to light up the night sky
Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 12:56 PM - Take command of a Martian spacecraft, watch three ISS crew members return to Earth and get ready for a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis on Thursday night! It's What's Up In Space!
Take your own pictures from Mars orbit
We've been treated to some great pictures of Mars by spacecraft like NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, but have you ever wanted to take command of one of these spacecraft, to take your own photographs? Well, if you're involved in science education (either through a school or science centre), a member of a youth group or a science club, now's your chance!
According to the ESA website:
ESA are inviting public proposals for a number of observation slots using the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) on board Mars Express.
The view from Mars Express' Visual Monitoring Camera, aka the 'Mars Webcam'. Credit: ESA
Watch ISS Expedition 42 return to Earth
Left to right: Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti, Elena Serova, Alexander Samoukutyaev and Barry Wilmore. Credit: NASA TV
A change of command took place on the International Space Station on Tuesday, as Barry 'Butch' Wilmore passed the ceremonial torch to fellow NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who is now in charge of Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti, and three more crew members who will arrive towards the end of March, for ISS Expedition 43.
Today, Wilmore, along with Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova, are marking final preparations for their return home aboard a Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft, which is set to detach from the space station at 6:44 pm EDT.
NASA coverage of the event is expected to start at 3 pm EDT, as Expedition 42 bids farewell to their colleagues and settles themselves in for departure, followed by the undocking at 6:44 pm, their reentry into Earth's atmosphere at 9:16 pm and their arrival back on the ground in Kazakhstan by 10:07 pm (or 8:07 am local time).
Coverage of the event will be broadcast live at those times via the embedded NASA TV video below:
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
The next three crew members to arrive, which is scheduled for March 27, has a fairly exciting mission to fulfill, as two of them push the concept of 'long duration spaceflights' to a new limit. While Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka will be on the station until September, fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly are involved in the One Year Mission, and will be remaining on the ISS until March of 2016! During that time, they will test nearly all aspects of living in the low-g environment of space, with Scott Kelly's twin brother Mark (a retired NASA astronaut) living in similar conditions as a 'control' on the ground. This new mission should give scientists and medical researches a wealth of data - not only to help with future space missions, but also for advancing medical science here on Earth.
Watch out for auroras on Thursday night!
A large sunspot, known as 'Active Region 2297', blasted out three moderate-strength solar flares so far, and a powerful X2.1-class flare around midday on Wednesday. While these were not aimed directly at Earth, space weather forecasters have indicated that the coronal mass ejections that were blown out into space from these three explosions may strike glancing blows on our planet's magnetic field.
AR2297, crackling with energy and framed by bright coronal loops, compared to Earth. Credit: NASA SDO and helioviewer.org
While a glancing blow from one of these would simply herald some heightened aurora activity, the three of them combining together have the potential to set off a minor geomagnetic storm. These events cause a significant boost in the number of charged particles that stream down into the atmospheres near the poles, sparking off stunning auroral displays.
Current forecasts show that the aurora should be active from Thursday morning straight through until Friday morning, with the peak between 8 pm and 2 am EDT. However, with the addition of this latest X-class flare, if the flare also blasted out a CME, upcoming forecasts could extend the peak or indicate a second peak as that latest CME arrives. Check the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center website, or follow @ScottWx_TWN for updates on where the display will be visible from and when is best to get out to see it.
RELATED VIDEO: NASA is scheduled to launch the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission on Thursday, March 12, which will monitor the interaction between the Sun's and Earth's magnetic fields, and how these interactions influence space weather, such as geomagnetic storms and auroras.