The Sciences

Worlds' most distant webcam goes live

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitAug 22, 2008 11:00 AM


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You can use a webcam to sneak peeks at birds' nests, active volcanoes, watch the Shuttle launch, and even to check traffic. But that's just local stuff. What if you want more of a far look?

Then you need to check out the most distant webcam (so far) in the solar system: the Mars Express Visual Monitoring Camera (note: the camera page is due to go live at 13:00 UT today, but don't fret if it takes a little while to go up after the deadline the page is now online!). This camera on board Europe's Mars Express orbiter has been circling the red planet since 2003. It was used to confirm the Beagle lander's separation from the main spacecraft, and that completed its main mission. But last year, controllers wondered if the camera could be turned back on to provide some tourist views of Mars, so they began a new campaign to check out the camera. It turned on just fine (after more than three years of sleep!) and they've been snapping away with it. The camera is not a scientific one: in other words, data from it are not easily measurable to the precision needed for scientific analysis, but it does provide spectacular views of Mars, and can be used to monitor weather and other changes on the planet. And the view! The image above shows something we never can see from Earth: a crescent Mars, with the Sun peeking over the limb (you need to have Mars between you and the Sun to see this, and Earth is always closer to the Sun than Mars). There are also animations of Mars rotating, and weather patterns changing. Totally awesome. And the Mars Express folks want more eyeballs! They made this request:

Open invitation for image feedback:: You can assist the Mars Express team with additional processing of the raw image data files as well as interpretation: What do you see? What part of the Mars surface is being shown? Can you identify any geographical features? What regions of the atmosphere or atmospheric components do you see?

So go to their site and check out Mars. It just might be the most interesting heavenly body you'll see on a web cam. And for those of you picky readers who want to complain about this post's title: note the position of the apostrophe.

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