The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander is well on its way to getting on with its search for life on Mars, and we have the images to prove it.
The probe launched aboard a Russian Proton rocket on Monday, and new images released by the European Space Agency on Thursday show it hurtling through space well on its merry way.
Shortly before it reaches the red planet in October, the Schiaparelli lander will break off and head to the planet’s surface, while the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) will find its way into orbit.
The European Space Agency has organized a massive six-month-long watch party for the ExoMars capsule, but not entirely for the fun of it. The spacecraft’s mission mimics the path of a potentially dangerous Near-Earth Object but in reverse. Astronomers are practicing keeping an eye on the capsule, so they’re ready in case they need to track a meteor that is threatening to wipe out all of humanity or provide some holiday cheer.
A team at the Observatório Astronômico do Sertão de Itaparica in Brazil led by Daniela Lazzaro, with Sergio Silva at the telescope, captured perhaps the most striking images of spacecraft. Remains of the Proton are also visible as slightly smaller fireballs trailing the central rocket.
But with teams all around the world searching for signs of the capsule, several have already turned in awesome entries. Alison Tripp and Sarah Roberts snapped images of the ExoMars capsule using only a one-meter-diameter telescope in Australia, and Grant Christie picked up its trace from the Stardome Observatory in Auckland, New Zealand.
The joint European and Russian agency will add new capabilities to the ongoing search for life on Mars. The TGO will scan the Martian atmosphere for traces of gases associated with biological life, like methane and its byproducts. The lander will only be active for a few days after hitting the ground, but in that short time, scientists hope to glean the first ever data about the planet’s electrical field.
So if you think these images of the spacecraft from Earth are cool, just check out what’s going on up there.