BAS Observer September 2017

2 BAS OBSERVER CURIOSITY ROVER: FIVE YEARS ON MARS My, how time flies. Can it really be more than five years since NASA’s Curiosity rover began its exploration of Mars? Indeed it is! On 5th August, 2012, at 10.32 p.m. (PDT/ mission time), mission control at JPL received a signal from the rover that it had successfully landed in Quad 51 of Aeolis Palus (an area nicknamed ‘Yellowknife’) after a journey of 560 million kilometres. The landing site in Gale Crater was subsequently named ‘Bradbury Landing’, in honour of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who had died at age 9 1 just two months before the rover touched down. Curiosity ’s mission was originally intended to last just two years, during which time it would explore the surface of Gale Crater and the foothills of its central peak, Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp); however, in December of 2012 it was announced that the rover’s mission would be extended indefinitely. And, remarkably, Curiosity is still in operation, sending back invaluable data on the geological history of Mars, its climate and radiation levels; assessing whether favourable conditions ever existed in Gale Crater for the existence of microbial life; and, of course, assessing the feasibility of future human habitation. During its five years on the Red Planet, Curiosity has returned some 427 000 images, travelled nearly 20 kilometres, and ascended Mount Sharp to a height of over 180 metres. Based on Curiosity ’s data, it now seems likely that Gale Crater was once a lake, filled with a combination of water and sulphuric acid, and infused with the carbon‑based compounds the rover has discovered in the crater’s soil and rocks. While we’re on the subject of carbon-based compounds, it should be mentioned that in 2014 the rover detected a 10-fold increase in the level of methane in its immediate vicinity – an as-yet-unexplained occurrence. While the methane spike certainly indicates that Mars is chemically active – probably as a result of underground reactions between minerals and water – it throws up some interesting questions. Why was the spike so short in duration? Will Curiosity detect another such occurrence? And, unlikely though it may be, could the methane have been the result of some currently occurring organic process? And another anniversary . . . Another, even more significant anniversary occurred on 5th September, with the launch, some 40 years ago, of the space probe Voyager 1. Turn to page 9 for a link to the NASA commemorative video of the event – one not to be missed! Darryl Nixon Club representatives PRESIDENT Peter Allison Ph: 0488 140 755 Email: VICE-PRESIDENT Stephanie Williams SECRETARY Colin Gale TREASURER Subbarao (Siva) Sivakumar GENERAL COMMITTEE MEMBERS Ken Wishaw, Caroline Williams and Syed Uddin ASTRO-IMAGING OFFICER Tony Surma-Hawes CATERING OFFICER Caroline Williams DEEP SKY OFFICER Stephanie Williams EDUCATION OFFICER Peter Allison EQUIPMENT OFFICERS Cheryl-Ann Tan and Ashley Ruaux FUNDRAISING/GRANTS OFFICER Mike Lewis LIBRARIAN Stephanie Williams LUNAR AND PLANETARY OFFICER Stephanie Williams MEMBERSHIP OFFICER Caroline Williams MERCHANDISE/SALES OFFICER Vacant PUBLICITY OFFICER Tony Surma-Hawes WEBMASTER/FACEBOOK ADMIN Ashley Ruaux and Peter Allison NEWSLETTER EDITOR Darryl Nixon Ph: (07) 3219 3839 Email: Layout and design: Sunset Publishing Services Pty Ltd ABN 90 130 679 791 POSTAL ADDRESS PO Box 15892 City East, QLD 4002 WEBSITE EMAIL No material may be reproduced from this publication without the written permission of the Brisbane Astronomical Society Inc. © BAS 2017 Cover image: Primed and ready for action! One of the many telescopes at the 2017 Queensland Astrofest stands ready for a night’s observing. Turn to page 10 for a report and more images from this year’s event.