The WeMartians Blog

Other items of interest from the fourth planet

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Credit: Ryan Wick

On Saturday, April 29th, the world celebrates Astronomy Day, and here at WeMartians we wouldn’t want to let that pass unnoticed. Mars is a great target for astronomy here on Earth! All this week, we’ll be spreading the astronomical love across our web platforms.

Read more to find out what’s going on and how you can take part! Astronomy Day is for everyone!

Social Media

  • Our Instagram account will have some classic #Mars astronomical photos each day of this week, beginning today!
  • Our Twitter account will publish some random astronomy facts and photos.
  • Over on Facebook, we’ll be sharing some highlighted videos from a great astronomy series by Phil Plait called “Crash Course” to help gear you up!

Where do I get started if I want to do some astronomy?

There’s a lot going on this week in astronomy, and if you want to see everything you can watch, we recommend this article from space.com. But here are the highlights:

  • Jupiter is very bright, having reached opposition on April 7th.  Look for it in the evening after sunset to the East! If you have binoculars or a small telescope, you can even spot the four Galilean Moons!
  • Venus is getting brighter every night this week, appearing just before sunrise in the East. It will be low to those of us in the Northern hemisphere, but Southerners will have a great showing.
  • Mars is getting further away form us but is still visible this month in the early evening Western sky.

Further Reading/Listening

If you want to go deeper, check out the following resources.

  • Naked Eye Astronomy Guide – Our article from last year’s Mars opposition giving you an idea of what you can do without a telescope.
  • Astronomy Smartphone Guide – Also from last year’s Mars opposition event, this guide gives you some ideas for Smartphone apps to help you do astronomy.
  • Episode 6 – “Mars; God of War” – Last year, we spoke with Kyle Dally from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and took a look through his telescope. Check out the podcast interview with him.

How can I participate?

Quite frankly – just go outside and look up!

If you’re in to photography, send us some photos that you take of the night sky and we’ll share them through social media. We’d love to hear from listeners around the world and hear their astronomical experiences.

What a crazy month!

Thanks to all the Patrons who’ve pledged support already. We’re 83% of the way to our first goal of $65/month in order to satisfy all the podcast’s operating expenses. Click the link to the right if you’d like to join the growing number of Martians who help support the exploration of Mars.

Read more below for a summary of the Patreon highlights in March.

  • LPSC History & Preview Video – I don’t often make videos, but all the Orbiter-level or higher patrons got a special on-the-scene preview of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference that I recorded from my rental car on the way to Houston. We covered a little bit of what to expect from LPSC, but also covered LPSC’s history all the way back to 1968! It was a fun way to explore LPSC’s past, and if anything, you should watch it just to hear my try to sing country music (I’ll just leave that there).
  • LPSC Audio Updates (3) – The big bonus content from this month’s episode really comes before it aired in the form of near-daily updates of the four conference days I spent in Houston (Wednesday was a straight-forward day and I was really tired that night, so there was no update then). Each of the three audio clips, available to Orbiter-level patrons or higher, covered my raw thoughts of the day and goes into more detail than the Episode released afterwards does. You’ll hear some more thoughts on a lecture about Laser Altimeters, NASA Night and the Budget Proposal from the White House, a special session on JMARS, deeper thoughts on NASA’s human landing sites and Lockheed Martin’s Mars Base Camp, and some more details about the science talks I spent my time in. It’s definitely the most bonus content I’ve produced so far for an episode!
  • Lockheed Martin Mars Lander Concept Photo (TOP SECRET) – I wasn’t allowed to tweet these, but that doesn’t stop me from sharing them privately with Patrons!
  • WeMartians Care Package – Some lucky Patrons who got me their addresses in time got a special care package in the mail this month. This was an “Off The Cuff” mail-out with some goodies I had made for the conference. You might see them pop up on social media!
  • Roadmap to Mars “Off The Cuff” – I dropped 20 minutes of audio exploring NASA’s announced Roadmap to Mars, covering the 11 missions on SLS and the proposed architecture.

It’s not too late to get in on this action – head over to www.patreon.com/wemartians and see how you can not only help the show grow, but also become more involved with the exploration of Mars for as little as $1/month.

Hey there, Martians!

A quick note that we’re going to be bringing Episode 22 forward in the publishing schedule by 1 week. Normally, following our once-every-three-week schedule meant we’d see #22 on April 18th, but we’re bringing it up to the 11th. Why, you ask? Well, we’re going to keep it a surprise for now, but we will give you some hints. Your first one? Check it out.

Be sure to follow any of our social media for updates on this development – we’ll have a few more hints before next week!

By the way, related to this announcement – now would be a great time to become a Patron (especially one of $3+). These lucky Martians are in for a special treat, in addition to all the regular great benefits! Check it out!

Picture Every year in March, nearly two thousand scientists, from geologists to astronomers to geophysicists, descend upon The Woodlands, Texas, a suburb of Houston. For one week, they share the latest findings in planetary science at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Facilitated by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, who itself is supported by NASA, the 48th annual LPSC promises to showcase a variety of important Mars results, and WeMartians will be there in person to capture it all.

What can I expect from WeMartians in terms of coverage?

TL;DR (if you’re short on time): Follow the social media accounts below for coverage from Sun Mar 19 to Thur Mar 23. On Friday Mar 24th, WeMartians will be touring Space Centre Houston to visit Johnson Space Centre and will provide additional content. The conference hashtag is #LPSC2017. First podcast episode will be Tuesday, Mar 28. Additional long form interviews will follow in subsequent episodes on our regular 3-week basis. Patreon Supporters should read below for bonus content info.

Social Media

This is WeMartians’ first in-person event and we’re very excited to provide coverage for all the Martians out there. Jake has been selected as one of 48 official conference microbloggers with dedicated access to wi-fi during the event. If you’re looking to follow along as it happens, our Twitter account is the one account you should follow.

Additional coverage on Facebook will include featured Mars scientists from the event with pictures of their posters or during their talks. We’re interested in showcasing the diversity of talent that will be present at the event and hope to show you all kinds of people who are working to unlock the mysteries of Mars today. Instagram will show worthy images from the conference.

The Podcast

Episode 21 will be released on March 28th, the Tuesday after the conference. The intention is for this episode to be an overall story of the event, with short interviews from a variety of attendees and organizers. If you want the once and for all summary of everything that happened, this will be your best bet! This episode should include a good mix of science, inspiration and exploration. We should even be able to catch up with some of our past guests!

Depending on the contacts that we make on site, we could have 1-3 additional episodes that will follow on the regular schedule after 21. These episodes will be traditional long form interviews with one or more scientists who are working on Mars.

What if I’m a Patron?

Quite frankly? Hold on to your space helmets. We’ve got a lot in store for Patrons of all levels. Expect daily audio updates throughout the event, and a vast amount of bonus content that doesn’t make it in to the regular episode. If you’re not already a Patron, now would be a great time to join. Bonus content is available to all Patrons who pledge $1 or more per month to help WeMartians continue building great content like this.


 The Event Itself

You might be asking yourself – what kinds of things actually happen at this event anyway? You can definitely check out the week’s schedule at a glance, or the full schedule with links to the abstracts being presented. But basically, there are three major kinds of events happening.

 PictureOral Sessions

During most of the mornings and afternoons, different presenters will be taking turns giving talks  of around 15 minutes each on the subjects of their papers. These papers are organized into groups of similar research, and similar destinations in the solar system. For example, Monday morning has a three hour session on Mars Volatile Surface-Atmospheric Interactions, which is a series of talks on the effects of different substances moving from the atmosphere to the surface and back. If you remember Episode 4, Michael Aye taught us about how Carbon Dioxide cycles to the poles and back seasonally – this would be the right session for a talk like that (in fact, Michael’s work is being presented in this very session!)

We’ll be hitting as many of the Mars ones as possible (hitting all would require Jake to be in more than one place as once). Past guests Cassie Stuurman, Nina Lanza, and Tanya Harrison are all speaking this year. Some of the highlighted sessions I’m looking forward to:

  • Mars Atmosphere: That was then, this is now
  • Mud to Mountain: Curiosity’s Geologic Traverse Across Gale Crater
  • Martian Meteorite Madness: Mixing on a Variety of Scales
  • Atmosphere and Loathing: Aeolian Processes on Mars

PicturePoster Sessions

If you don’t land a talk to present your work, you might also have the chance to present your scientific findings in one of two poster sessions. These happen Tuesday and Thursday evening, and basically involve a huge conference hall with rows of posters up on walls. These posters try to summarize, with figures and other imagery, the findings on various topics so far. These posters are also categorized into different areas based on different themes.

We hope to meet a lot of people in these sessions and capture some on the scene 5-minute summaries of different work being conducted. Some of the poster categories I’m looking forward to:

  • Exobiology: Search for (Signs of) Life High and Low, Near and Far
  • Martian Meteorites: Geochemistry and Such
  • Opportunity Rover Observations
  • Investigation of Mars Analog Field sites
  • Mars Mission Concepts
  • Environmental Analogs (many, including a whole section on CanMars 2016 and posters from past guest Eric Pilles)
  • Future Mars Exploration and Landing Sites
  • Martian Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL), Gullies, and Landslides

PicturePresentations & Special Events

Finally, there are a couple presentations & special events which take place throughout the conference.

The Sunday evening before is a welcome event that we’ll be attending in order to catch up with past guests and try to meet some future ones.

On Monday, we’ll have the chance to hear Apollo astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt gives his thoughts on the recent passing of John Glenn, Edgar Mitchel and Gene Cernan. Afterwards, NASA’s Science Mission directorate will address the community. That evening, the Exhibit Hall opens, which has some cool visitors we’re keen to say hello to, not least of which are:

  • Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration from the University of Western Ontario – hosted CanMars2016 and the breeding ground for many of our past guests
  • JMARS (Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing – basically an amazing mapping software for Mars)
  • Lockheed Martin
  • NASA
  • MSA/SSL (has built science instruments for Curiosity, Phoenix, as well as the Canadarm and robotic arm for InSight)

Tuesday has a special presentation called Picking a Human Landing Site on Mars: What Are We Learning? which is obviously of great interest to us Martians!

Finally, on Thursday, Lockheed Martin is hosting a workshop on how humans can use their Mars Base Camp spacecraft design to accomplish scientific objectives on Mars from orbit. Should be a blast!

PictureSpace Centre Houston

The last day of the conference is typically a short one, and we made the decision to get out early and head down to Houston to visit Space Centre Houston at the Johnson Space Centre on the Level 9 tour which is sort of a VIP tour to visit behind the scenes.

Expect some cool photos, including the Saturn V rocket, a space shuttle replica, the historic Apollo Mission Control and more. They’ve also opened a new Mission Mars exhibit that we’re very excited to check out.

Conclusion

This is going to be a lot of fun. Strap in to your space couch and let’s go to Mars!

It’s been an exciting month for Patrons of the show. We’ve only been live for about five weeks but there is already lots going on.

Thanks to all the Patrons who have pledged support already. We’re 62% of the way to our first goal of $65/month in order to satisfy all the podcast’s operating expenses. Click the link to the right if you’d like to join the growing number of Martians who help support the exploration of Mars.

Read more below for a summary of the Patreon highlights in February.

  • Patreon Commercial – Three volunteer Martians have had their voices heard on the show (literally) by participating in a short spot for Patreon that I use on the podcast. Thanks to Jorge, Paul and Anthony for lending their lungs to the cause!
  • 1st Quarterly Chat – Lander- and Rover-level patrons joined me for the first ever quarterly chat hangout on Discord. We discussed past episodes and future content, as well as geeking out about a few topics like the Mars2020 rover. It was an awesome experience for me to get feedback from the listeners, but also really excited that they can set direction for the show.
  • Interview Contributions – Patron Jorge, a Rover-level Martian, had his questions read on the air in Episode 19 – Dome Sweet Dome. Jorge asked about the extensibility of the Mars Ice Home as well as the source of its building materials.
  • Bonus Content – Extended Interview – All Patrons were able to listen to the extended interview with Kelsey Lents and Jeffrey Montes from Episode 19 – Dome Sweet Dome. Jeffrey and Kelsey describe what it was like working with NASA and being a part of a greater space community.
  • Bonus Content – “Off the Cuff” – Pushing SLS – All Patrons also got a mini-episode where I share some thoughts on the news that NASA will explore putting a crew on to the first flight of the SLS rocket. This change would accelerate NASA’s schedule and is a bit uncharacteristic. I tried to provide some context to what it all means.

It’s not too late to get in on this action – head over to www.patreon.com/wemartians and see how you can not only help the show grow, but also become more involved with the exploration of Mars for as little as $1/month.

 Our Patreon campaign may have only launched on January 23rd, but there’s been quite a lot of activity going on there! It’s not too late to get in on these perks, either. Check out the Patreon page for more info.

Thanks to all the Patrons who have pledged support already. We’re 20% of the way to our first goal of $65/month in order to satisfy all the podcast’s operating expenses.

Read more below for a summary of the Patreon highlights in January.

  • Social Media Badges – I’ve posted all three Social Media Badges for the different patronage levels you can contribute at. These are just fun little images you can share however you like (on your blog, your Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to tell the world you’re a Martian and that you support the show.
  • Bonus Content – All Patrons who contribute at least $1/month got access to a 10 minute bonus podcast that’s the first in my “Off the Cuff” series. This time, we covered Moon vs. Mars. “Off the Cuff” is quick hit about current events, and it’s unscripted, unscheduled, and uncut. I hope to do many of them in the future!
  • Quarter 1 Podcast Meetup – Scheduled for February 12th, I’ll be hosting the first ever meetup for Patrons who contribute $3 or more to the show. We’ll be discussing past and future episodes, as well as upcoming coverage of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which I will be travelling down to Houston to see.
  • Interview Announcement – Patrons who contribute $5/month or more got notice of the next interview for Episode 19. They’re already thinking up questions that I’ll read on the air! I think it’s an awesome way to involve the contributors with the show.

It’s not too late to get in on this action – head over to www.patreon.com/wemartians and see how you can not only help the show grow, but also become more involved with the exploration of Mars for as little as $1/month.

Today we’re officially launching our Patreon campaign. Patreon is a great, simple platform for listeners and readers like you to support the show financially. By subscribing to us on Patreon for as little as $1/month, you can ensure ongoing content continues to come out by helping us with our operating costs. The WeMartians Podcast will always be free, but if you find value in what you hear, consider becoming a patron today! There are perks in it for you, too!

There are three levels to donate at, and each level grants you some pretty cool perks.

  • Orbiter Level ($1/month) – Access to the Patron only feed over on the Patreon site, where I will occasionally post bonus audio. video or text content.
  • Lander Level ($3/month) – Access to a quarterly chat session where we will discuss past and future episodes, and you can provide feedback on the direction of the show.
  • Rover Level ($5/month) – Advance notice of interviews and the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time that could be read on the show. You can not only be a supporter, but a contributor!

At each level, you’ll also get a sweet social media badge that tells the world you’re a Martian!

You can check out the page on Patreon to learn more about our funding goals and what we’ll do with the money. My goal is to be as transparent as possible throughout this campaign. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll become a WeMartians Patron today!

On October 19th, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission reaches Mars. It’s the only spacecraft to make the trip during this launch window and comprises an orbiter and a lander. There’s a lot going on and WeMartians will be there every step of the way!

Get yourself totally revved up with this animation of the ExoMars mission using Kerbal Space Program (I had a productive weekend).

Timeline of Events
October 14th

  • ExoMars will make a small trim manoeuvre to pinpoint the landing trajectory.

October 16th

  • 07:52 PDT/10:52 EDT – Schiaparelli Lander separates from Trace Gas Orbiter (1Mkm from Mars)

October 19th

  • 05:00 PDT/08:00 PDT – WeMartians Live Twitter Coverage Begins
  • 06:19 PDT/09:19 EDT – Trace Gas Orbiter begins insertion burn
  • 07:52 PDT/10:52 EDT – Schiaparelli enters the atmosphere
  • 07:58 PDT/10:58 EDT – Schiaparelli lands on the surface of Mars
  • 08:23 PDT/11:23 EDT – Trace Gas Orbiter insertion burn ends

After the mission, we’ll be recording an ExoMars podcast episode with a special guest to talk all about the exciting science ahead for the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli. Look for it in our podcast stream the week after arrival.

On Tuesday, June 28th 2016, starting at 9:30AM EDT (6:30AM PDT), we’ll be live-tweeting the second and final qualification test of the NASA SLS Solid Rocket Booster at the Orbital ATK facility in Promontory, Utah. This 2-minute static fire will test the lower temperature envelope for performance on the rocket before flight models are completed for SLS’s first flight in 2018.
The first qualification test, QM-1, was completed in March of 2015 and tested the high temperature envelope (90F/32C). QM-2 has a chilled booster at 40F/4C. This ensures the booster will operate well in various temperatures at the launch site in Florida. Learn more about QM-1 with this video:
The 5-segment motor, derived from old Shuttle boosters, takes advantage of some high-tech manufacturing to help produce a lighter, safer, and more environmentally friendly booster which also produces more thrust. Here’s a great, inside look into the manufacturing process.
Check our Twitter account (@we_martians) on Monday for a series of fun facts on the SLS SRBs. Then, beginning at 9:30AM EDT, we’ll live tweet the event and provide stream information you can watch live! See you there!

Giovanni Schiaparelli, one of the most famous observers of Mars prior to the space age, would have celebrated his 181st birthday today, were it not for, you know, aging. Though he wasn’t around to celebrate, he nonetheless received a pretty amazing gift.

At 09:31 GMT, a Russian Proton-M rocket lifted off from the historic launch facility at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Where once top secret Soviet satellites and crewed spacecraft launched to space in a heated space race with the United States, today an international mission of science and discovery called ExoMars began its 496 km journey to Mars.

The main spacecraft, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), will search for methane sources on the Red Planet and map hydrogen content below the surface, continuing Schiaparelli’s search for life in the solar system. While the Italian astronomer used a big telescope and a keen eye to chart what he referred to as canali on the surface, TGO will use advanced neutron detectors and stereo photography.


Perched atop the TGO, in a small aerodynamic capsule, is the entry and descent landing demonstrator, a small spacecraft designed to plunge into the atmosphere of Mars. Slowing down using a heat shield, a parachute, and a set of pulse-fired liquid-fueled rocket thrusters, it will come to a stop in Meridiani Planum (where NASA’s Opportunity Rover is still exploring today) with an uncerimonious thump, atop it’s collapsible landing pad. The lander’s name? Why, Schiaparelli, of course.
It’s an ambitious mission which has only just begun; course corrections are planned throughout it’s 7-month journey, and TGO will need to operate for many years after insertion, conducting science and also acting as relays for surface operating spacecraft, including the upcoming follow up from ESA – the ExoMars 2018 rover.Here at WeMartians, the event began early in the morning. Very early.


The pre-launch operations went well. The launch vehicle was fueled, the gantry was retracted, and the thermal blankets were removed from the payload fairings. Launch polls went flawlessly, and the spacecraft was moved to internal power. Finally, without a lot of pomp or circumstance, Proton-M leisurely climbed from the pad, unhindered by the usual launch clamps that usually hold down its cousins like Soyuz.
And while the liftoff seemed pretty casual, the launch sequence was fast and furious. It was my first real attempt at live-tweeting a launch; I hope I did ok!
The orbital insertion of ExoMars and it’s Briz-M upper stage was only the beginning though. Thanks to a highly efficient but very low-thrust engine on the Briz-M, the spacecraft doesn’t have the power necessary to escape Earth’s gravity in one fell swoop (ie. a single engine burn). It has to do a really tedious and time-consuming multi-orbit, 4-burn manoeuvre before it can head to Mars. I took this opportunity to share some info about the tracking stations used during the launch sequence.
Ninety minutes after launch, the spacecraft circled around the Earth and began it’s second burn.
Along the journey, I filled the time with still more fun facts! Some were even delivered by Michael Khan, a trajectory specialist for ExoMars!
Following the third burn, which raised the apogee to 21,000 km, I shared some info from the Schiaparelli landing presentation, which had some great testing videos.
Then I had a nap. I had been up all night and needed a bit of a refresher so I could be back for the fourth and final burn, which was not scheduled for six more hours as ExoMars circled a highly eccentric orbit around the Earth. Social media took a break, too, but as the moment approached, things started heating up again!
The final burn was a success. ExoMars was officially en route to Mars, and the spacecraft separated from the Briz-M upper stage.  If you’ve ever wondered what happens when your tweet is retweeted by Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor of the Planetary Society, it looks like this. I might need a new vibration motor in my phone after all the activity.
The final crucial moment of the day was over an hour after separation. At this point, the automated sequence on board the spacecraft switched to cruise mode, and phoned home to the little 2 metre X-band antenna dish in Malindi, Kenya. ESOC then commanded ExoMars to open its solar panels, bathing the spacecraft in sunlight now that it has crossed the terminator. The precise trajectory of the spacecraft could then be calculated.
And the event concluded with the ceremonial first tweet from the ExoMars orbiter, a new custom among space agencies looking to reach greater audiences by anthropomorphizing their spacecraft.
It was a fantastic ride, but ExoMars is on the way. In mid-October, it will reach the Red Planet – we’ll talk more about it then!
Happy Birthday, Giovanni!