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While one Mars rover tries to keep itself alive in the feeble sunlight of a Martian winter, another is trying to figure out how much of a risk the sunlight could pose to the lives of astronauts en route to the Red Planet.
The first rover is called Opportunity. It’s been on Mars for more than eight years. Right now, it’s parked inside a deep crater, on a slope that faces the Sun as it scoots low across the sky. The rover’s solar panels are covered with so much dust that it has to hunker down during the winter and use most of its energy to stay warm. It is conducting research, but only on the rocks that are close by.
The second rover is Curiosity. It’s only about half-way to Mars, but it’s already turned on one of its instruments -- a detector that measures radiation from the Sun, and from sources beyond the solar system. The instrument is deep inside the spacecraft, just as an astronaut would be. That’ll help scientists determine how much radiation Mars travelers can expect to receive, which in turn will help engineers design ways to protect them.
Curiosity will continue to measure radiation after it lands on Mars, in August.
And Mars is in great view right now. It’s high in the east at nightfall, shining like a bright orange star in the constellation Leo, the lion. But it’s starting to fade a little as Earth moves away from it, so take advantage while Mars is still a spectacular sight.
We’ll have more about Mars tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012