Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2003 December 18
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Express to Mars
Credit: Mars Express, ESA

Explanation: Hurtling toward its destination, the high resolution camera on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft recorded this tantalizing view of the Red Planet earlier this month on December 3rd. Seen from a distance of 5.5 million kilometers, features across part of Mars' western hemisphere are bathed in sunlight. The Martian night side is also prominent from the spacecraft's perspective, a view not possible for Earthbound telescopes. Launched on an interplanetary voyage of exploration in early June, Mars Express carries with it the Beagle 2 lander, scheduled to be released from Mars Express tomorrow, December 19th. Mars Express and Beagle 2 will then continue the journey separately, but both are scheduled to reach Mars on December 25th, with Mars Express entering an elliptical orbit and Beagle 2 descending to the Martian surface. Two more invaders from Earth, NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, will arrive in January.

Tomorrow's picture: SIRTF

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
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