ExoMars March 14th Lift Off, The Sign of a Earth-Mars Close Approach?

In the early in the morning of March 14th, 2016, a joint EASA-Roscosmos mission blasted off from Kazakhstan on top of a Proton launch vehicle.  The space vehicle will take 7 months traveling through space before arriving to Mars around October 19th.  The mission is actually composed of two vehicles, which will separate 3 days prior to the Mars arrival: Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli, the later entering the martian atmosphere and landing on the surface.

ExoMars 2016 Launch campaign

ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2016

I wondered if the launch signaled an upcoming Earth-Mars close approach.  A space program wanting to reach Mars on a budget would select a launch date at a time when both planets are at their closest to reduce the fuel required, and time spent traveling through space.  Sure enough, the next Earth-Mars close approach is May 30, 2016, a few days after opposition of May 22nd.  An upcoming great opportunity to turn the telescope to Mars and hopefully capture some of the planet’s features.  Mars’ angular size varies from as little as 3.5″ to an easy observing 25.1″ which is quite dramatic.

Earth-Mars close approach happen roughly every 26 months, and often coincide to Mars missions launches.  The following list from NASA of recent Mars mission launches show a lovely two year interval.

2001:      Mars Odyssey
2003:      Mars Exploration Rovers
2005:      Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
2007:      Mars Phoenix Lander
2009:      (skipped opportunity)
2011:      Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover
2013:      MAVEN

The last one in 2013 was in November, hence a Mars 2016, 28 months later falls within that window of opportunity.  The ExoMars program actually has two space vehicles.  The next one is planned for… you guessed it 26 months later: May 2018 launch.


Tripod and a Camera? Make a TimeLapse


You don’t need a telescope to enjoy astro-photography.  All it takes is a camera, a tripod and a timer remote controller to take interval images without you having to be there.  I know that most of the image taking is done with the camera connected to a computer.  But this remote controller allows for control of the shutter in the BULB setting without a laptop.  See it as a “grab-n-go”, travel-light type of accessory to the camera.


Set it up to take a large sequence of shots and you got the makings of a timelapse video.  Because there is no tracking with the tripod, keep the exposures under 10 seconds.  Then use video editing software like Microsoft Movie Maker to covert all those images into a video (see my article here).

It’s always interesting to analyse your frames to determine what you’ve capture, to identify key or important elements.

Wide field of the sky, mountains and horizon from a Montreal south sore suburb. March 4th, 2016. Benoit Guertin

Wide field of the sky, mountains and horizon from a Montreal south sore suburb.
March 4th, 2016. Benoit Guertin

Unfortunately, my camera battery wasn’t fully charged, and the cold drained it quickly, therefore only got about 100 frames in.