The first ever broadcast from Mars will be broadcast today by the European Space Agency. During it, new images taken by the Mars Express probe will be presented. Engineers predict that we will see images from the surface of the Red Planet with only 18 minutes of delay.
Observation of celestial bodies is always associated with a certain delay. What prevents us from seeing them in real time is the distance that light must travel after bouncing off a given object before it reaches our eyes. For solar system planets, this delay is relatively small, but for distant objects it can be millions of years. Today, however, we will have the opportunity to watch the first ever cosmic livestream from the Red Planet.
Stream from Mars
The broadcast was organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Mars Express, a space probe designed by the European Space Agency. Every 50 seconds, the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) will transmit a new image of the Red Planet’s surface. ESA said the time between taking the image and appearing on the screen will be around 18 minutes, of which 17 minutes will be taken by the signal traveling from Mars to Earth. The event will start on Friday, June 2 at 6 pm CET and will last approximately one hour.
As the engineers explain, most of the observations collected by space probes are made when they are not in direct contact with a receiver on Earth. The data is recorded and transmitted hours or even days later when the spacecraft comes back into contact with our planet. This is how Mars Express and VMC operate on a daily basis.
ESA adds that “live” broadcasts from outer space this is rare and mostly concerns missions carried out in our immediate vicinity – in orbit around the Earth and on the moon. Transmissions from more distant missions have so far been very short or reached us with a long delay.
The third life of the camera
The VMC camera on Mars Express, also known as the “Mars webcam,” was not designed for scientific observation – its main purpose was to monitor the landing of the Beagle 2 rover in 2003. After completing this task and submitting the report, the camera was turned off, but ESA decided to restart it four years later. To celebrate her long and productive life, the tech team has spent the last few months developing tools that will allow streaming images.
– It’s an old camera, originally designed to make technical observations at a distance of almost three million kilometers from Earth. Something like this has never been tried before, and to be honest, we’re not 100 percent sure it will work,” explained James Godfrey of ESA’s Mission Control Center in Darmstadt, Germany. However, as he said, he is full of optimism.
– Usually we see pictures from Mars and we know that they were taken a few days earlier. I’m excited to see Mars as it is now, as close to the Martian “now” as possible.”
Main photo source: NASA/JPL-Caltech