Universal Digest Vol. 2

Hello! This is the second instalment of your one stop shop for all things happening in the stratosphere this month. March is the month that we welcome Spring; during this seasonal transition the planets and such are definitely keeping up.

On March 9, the Moon will be a waxing crescent. Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury will also sit on the southeastern horizon that night. The planets will move the next day: Jupiter will rest to the upper left of the Moon with both Mercury and Saturn just above the horizon. A Near-Earth Object will also visit our skies briefly on March 10th at 6:45 EST, travelling at speeds clocking near 18,700 mph. There is no indication that it’ll brush our atmosphere but still look out for that if you can.

Mercury on March 11th will only rise just a smidge above our horizon right before sunrise for only around 30min. Two days later, the New Moon will occur. Also, make sure to turn your clocks forward on Sunday March 14 for Daylight Savings Time if you are in a place that follows it.

Fun fact about the Moon: it'll be at the farthest point in its orbit around Earth (or its apogee) on March 18. Spring is officially here on March 20 with the Spring Equinox.

On March 26, Venus will be traveling on the opposite side of the Sun from us here on Earth. This is also called a superior conjunction and starting next month or so we should start seeing it in the western night sky.

Sadly no meteor showers this month but there will always be more in the future.

Finally, to round out the month, on March 28 we’ll have the March Full Moon, also  lovingly called the Worm Moon. The Ojibwe People who reside in central Canada and the upper Midwest of the US call this moon the Sugar Moon because it’s the time of the year when the sugar maple starts to flow.

Now onto space news, in February Mars was sitting at the popular table in the science community. Three space missions from UAESA (United Arab Emirates Space Agency), CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) arrived at the Red Planet. All these missions were launched in July 2020 during the Hohmann Transfer Window,a launch window that occurs every 26 months or so for missions that go to Mars.

The Hope Probe came to its resting spot in orbit on February 9. In Arabic the probe’s name is Al-Amal, which in the words of the VP and Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, “...sends a message of optimism to millions of young Arabs” The Hope Probe is the first Mars probe from the United Arab Emirates to enter Martian space. It aims to be the first probe to take complete pictures of the Martian atmosphere and all its layers. This mission is scheduled to have a duration of at least one Martian year or around 687 Earth days. The first pictures taken by the Hope probe can be found available to download here (if the website doesn't work they are also available to view here).

The Tianwen-1 Mars probe arrived in orbit on February 11. The Tianwen, or Quest for Heavenly Truth, program is named after the long-form poem from ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, as stated in a statement released by the CNSA.  On Feb 24, it entered it’s preset parking orbit, which is the orbit of most spacecraft before releasing probes or rovers onto a planet's surface. It is the first independent mission from the CNSA that has landed in Martian orbit. There are plans to land a rover in May or June on the southern part of the Utopia Planitia, which is “the largest recognized impact basin in the solar system-to conduct scientific surveys” (source). It is the 46th exploration mission since the Soviet Union launched the first Mars-bound spacecraft in October 1960. On March 4, the first photos of Mars from the Tianwen-1 mission were released by the CNSA; you can find some of the images in these articles here and here

On February 18, the Perseverance Rover from the Mars 2020 mission touched down in the Jezero Crater on Mars. The Perseverance Rover received its name in a naming contest for students K-12 that NASA held in late 2019/early 2020 which had over 28,000 entries submitted. On Mars the rover will identify past environments possible for supporting life, collecting rock samples, and testing the oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere. The total expected length of the mission is at least one Martian year or about 687 Earth days. All the samples collected by the Perseverance rover will be stored in sealed tubes that will be picked up by future missions back to Mars hosted by NASA. More information about the Mars 2020 mission as well as pictures and landing videos can be found on the Mars 2020 website here.

I’m looking forward to all the insights these three Mars missions will give us into the Rust Planet. And as always, I hope you all are staying safe as you go and gaze into the night sky. Happy Spring and good luck on finals everyone.