Is the dot on the photo - Mars?

Is the dot on the photo - Mars?

The below photos were taken yesterday (August 4, 2018) at about 10 p.m. from the plane over the Black Sea.

We were seeing the light dot on the left for at least 10-20 minutes. It looked like a bright star, but there were no other stars.

How likely that it was Mars?

This was not Mars. Mars is close to opposition now, so it almost opposite the sun, and visible as an obviously red "star" in the Southern sky at midnight.

Your photo shows that the sun has just set, and you note that other stars were not visible. This is the planet Venus. Currently shining at magnitude -5 it is 100 times brighter than the most bright stars. It is common, shortly after sunset for it to be the only visible "star", and as it orbits closer to the sun than the Earth, it is always seen in the sky close to the sun, as your photo shows. The when the Planet Venus is an "evening star" it is seen in the west. This is consistent with your plane travelling in a roughly northerly direction.

It is hard to be sure what time zone, you are in, or exactly where you are, but Venus will be visible shortly after sunset in most parts of the world.

China's Mars rover Zhurong spotted from space by NASA orbiter (photos)

A sharp-eyed NASA spacecraft has given us a bird's-eye view of China's first Mars rover.

The HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped a shot of the Chinese rover, called Zhurong, on June 6, about three weeks after the wheeled robot touched down with its stationary lander on the vast Red Planet plain Utopia Planitia.

"Clearly visible are what we interpret as the lander surrounded by a blast pattern, and the rover itself a bit to the south after it descended from the lander," HiRISE team members wrote in a description of the photo, which was released today (June 10).

"This image shows the surrounding terrain to be very typical of southern Utopia Planitia, with a smooth and mostly boulder-free region," they added. "The bright curving features are aeolian (windblown) landforms."

The HiRISE imagery also shows the hardware that helped Zhurong and its lander make it safely to the Martian surface. The mission's heat shield, back shell and parachute can all be seen, scattered some distance from the rover-lander duo.

Zhurong is part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which launched toward the Red Planet in July 2020. Tianwen-1 also includes an orbiter, which is studying Mars from above and serving as a relay link between Zhurong and controllers on Earth.

Zhurong will study the geology of its landing zone and hunt for water ice, among other tasks, during a surface mission designed to last at least three months. The Tianwen-1 orbiter, meanwhile, will conduct mineralogical and other investigations for at least one Mars year, which is 687 Earth days.

The new image is far from the first HiRISE (short for "High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment") has captured robots on the Martian surface. The camera, which can resolve features as small as a coffee table on the red dirt below, has also snapped photos of NASA's Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, as well as the agency's Phoenix and InSight landers.

As that lengthy list implies, MRO has been in action a long time. The spacecraft has been circling Mars for more than 15 years now, studying the planet's geology and climate, scouting out future landing sites and relaying communications from surface craft back to Earth, among other tasks.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018 illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.


Astrobiology is a relatively new field of study, where scientists from a variety of disciplines (astronomy, biology, geology, physics, etc.) work together to understand the potential for life to exist beyond Earth. However, the exploration of Mars has been intertwined with NASA&rsquos search for life from the beginning. The twin Viking landers of 1976 were NASA&rsquos first life detection mission, and although the results from the experiments failed to detect life in the Martian regolith, and resulted in a long period with fewer Mars missions, it was not the end of the fascination that the Astrobiology science community had for the red planet.

Why is Mars sometimes bright and sometimes faint?

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Abigail Atienza caught the waning gibbous moon and red planet Mars (on the right) with the northern lights along the Road to Nowhere, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada, on September 6, 2020. Thank you, Abigail. For about a month surrounding mid-October 2020, Mars was brighter than all the stars, even brighter than Jupiter, normally the 2nd-brightest planet. In 2021, Mars has gotten dim again. Why?

2018 was a good year to view Mars. So was 2020, especially around September, October and November. In both 2018 and 2020, Mars appeared as a blazing red dot of flame in our night sky. On the other hand, in 2019, Mars was mostly faint and barely noticeable in our sky. And – although Mars started this year shining as brightly as the sky’s brightest stars – Mars is now the dimmest of the three planets in the evening sky and will appear quite dim throughout 2021. In May 2021, Mars has faded so much that it has begun to appear inconspicuous among the brighter stars. Mars’ dramatic swings in brightness are part of the reason the early stargazers named Mars for their god of war sometimes, the war god rests, and sometimes he grows fierce!

Why? Why is Mars bright in some years, but faint in others? And what can you expect from the red planet in 2021? Keep reading to learn why the appearance of Mars varies so widely in our sky, making it one of the most interesting planets to watch.

The moon has been traveling up past the 3 planets in the evening sky. On May 15, 2021, the moon will be near Mars. Read more.

In this coming northern summer (southern winter), a much-faded Mars will be hovering near the sunset glare. It’ll appear to linger for many months in that position – close to the sun along our line of sight – and finally disappear into the sunset in August 2021.

Then Mars will be gone from our sky for some months. It’ll return by 2021’s end, though, to appear in the east before sunrise.

View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nancy Ricigliano captured Mars from Long Island, New York, on October 6, 2020, when it was closest to Earth. Thank you, Nancy. See more photos of Mars at its closest in 2020. Mars isn’t very big, so its brightness – when it is bright – isn’t due to its bigness, as is true of Jupiter. Mars’ brightness, or lack of brightness, is all about how close we are to the red planet. It’s all about where Earth and Mars are, relative to each other, in their respective orbits around the sun. Image via Lunar and Planetary Institute.

To understand why Mars varies so much in brightness in Earth’s sky, first realize that Mars isn’t a very big world. It’s only 4,219 miles (6,790 km) in diameter, making it only slightly more than half Earth’s size (7,922 miles or 12,750 km in diameter).

Consider Mars in contrast to Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. Jupiter is 86,881 miles (140,000 km) in diameter. More than 20 planets the size of Mars could be lined up side by side in front of Jupiter. Jupiter always looks bright, because it’s so big.

Not so for little Mars. Its extremes in brightness have to do with its nearness (or lack of nearness) to Earth.

Matt Pollack captured Mars from Little Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks of upstate New York in July 2018. Read more about this photo.

Mars orbits the sun one step outward from Earth. The distances between Earth and Mars change as both worlds orbit around the sun. Sometimes Earth and Mars are on the same side of the solar system and near one another. Sometimes, as was the case for much of 2019 and will be the case for much of 2021, Mars and Earth are on nearly opposite sides of the sun from each other, and so Mars appears faint.

Look at next few diagrams, below. The first shows Earth and Mars in their respective positions in their orbits around the sun in October 2020, when Earth and Mars were closest for this two-year period. The second shows Earth and Mars this month. The third shows Earth and Mars in August 2021, when Mars will be fading into the sunset glare.

This chart shows the relative positions of Earth (blue) and Mars (red) at the time of Mars’ last opposition on October 13, 2020. Around that time, Mars was bright in our sky and in the sky all night long. Image via Fourmilab. This chart shows the relative positions of Earth (blue) and Mars (red) around mid-May 2021. The planet is now in the west after sunset, inconspicuous among the brighter stars. Image via Fourmilab. This chart shows the relative positions of Earth (blue) and Mars (red) in mid-August 2021. At that time, Mars will be far behind Earth in orbit. It’ll be faint and inconspicuous, very low in the west at sunset, fading into the sunset glare. Earth and Mars will be directly opposite each other (Mars at conjunction with the sun) on October 8, 2021. Image via Fourmilab.

Earth takes a year to orbit the sun once. Mars takes about two years to orbit once. Opposition for Mars – when Earth passes between Mars and the sun – happens every two years and 50 days.

So Mars’ brightness waxes and wanes in our sky about every two years. But that’s not the only cycle of Mars that affects its brightness. There’s also a 15-year cycle of bright and faint oppositions.

Due to that 15-year cycle, 2018 was a very, very special year for Mars, when the planet was brighter than it had been since 2003. Astronomers called it a perihelic opposition (or perihelic apparition) of Mars. In other words, in 2018, we went between Mars and the sun – bringing Mars to opposition in our sky – around the same time Mars came closest to the sun. The word perihelion refers to Mars’ closest point to the sun in orbit.

Maybe you can see that – in years when we pass between Mars and the sun, when Mars is also closest to the sun – Earth and Mars are closest. That’s what happened in 2018.

2003 was the previous perihelic opposition for Mars. The red planet came within 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) of Earth, closer than at any time in over nearly 60,000 years! That was really something.

In 2020, Mars was still very bright at opposition. But it wasn’t as bright as it had been in 2018, or in 2003.

When is the next opposition of Mars? The next time Mars will appear at its brightest for that two-year period in our sky? You guessed it. 2022!

There’s a 15-year cycle of Mars, whereby the red planet is brighter and fainter at opposition. In July 2018, we were at the peak of the 2-year cycle – and the peak of the 15-year cycle – and Mars was very, very bright! In 2020, we were also at the peak of the 2-year cycle however, Earth and Mars were farther apart at Mars’ opposition than they were in 2018. Still, 2020’s opposition of Mars was excellent. Diagram by Roy L. Bishop. Copyright Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Used with permission. Visit the RASC estore to purchase the Observer’s Handbook, a necessary tool for all skywatchers. Read more about this image.

Bottom line: Mars alternates years in appearing bright and faint in our night sky. 2020 brought another bright year for Mars. But in May 2021, Mars appears faint and inconspicuous again and will remain so for the rest of this year.

NASA's Cassini mission captured this view of Earth from afar using its wide-angle camera on Sept. 15, 2006, while it was orbiting Saturn. At the time, the Cassini spacecraft was 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) from Saturn and about 930 million miles (1.5 billion km) from Earth. Saturn's moon Enceladus is also captured on the left, swathed in blue and trailing its plume of water ice particles through Saturn's E ring.

This is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the moon. It was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit one hour before sunrise on the 63rd Martian day, or sol, of its mission. Because Earth was too faint to be detected in images taken with the panoramic camera's color filters, the inset image shows a combination of four panoramic images zoomed in on Earth.

Huge New Mars Crater Found by NASA Spacecraft (Photos)

An eagle-eyed NASA spacecraft has spotted a fresh crater on Mars large enough to cover half of a football field, and it's no puny Martian pockmark. In fact, the crater is the largest new impact site ever seen on the Red Planet using orbiter photos.

NASA's powerful Mars Reconaissance Orbiter captured the photo of the new Martian crater after it suddenly appeared in March 2012. Mission scientists say it is the biggest fresh impact crater scientists have confirmed on any planet by using before-and-after images.

The crater likely was carved by a car-size asteroid in an impact event similar to last year's meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which shattered windows, damaged hundreds of buildings and left more than 1,000 people injured, NASA officials said.

Mars' new scar was first spotted about two months ago by Bruce Cantor, a scientist with Malin Space Science Systems who puts together weekly Martian weather reports. Cantor noticed an unusual dark dot while he was looking for dust storms and other events using images taken by the Mars Color Imager, or MARCI, a weather-monitoring camera built by Malin Space Science Systems on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

"It wasn't what I was looking for," Cantor said in a statement. "I was doing my usual weather monitoring and something caught my eye. It looked usual, with rays emanating from a central spot."

By going through the archives of daily images of the site, Canton pinpointed the date the impact event occurred. The crater was absent March 27, 2012, and then appeared sometime before the photo opportunity, on March 28, 2012.

Subsequent images taken with the orbiter's Context Camera (CTX) and High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) revealed that there are actually two main craters at the site. These holes are surrounded by more than a dozen smaller pockmarks, likely created by bits of the blasted asteroid or material ejected from the main craters. Darkened slopes in the 5-mile (8 kilometers) area around the craters suggest shock waves from the cosmic collision even triggered Martian landslides, NASA officials said.

The largest crater is quite shallow and spans 159 feet by 143 feet (48.5 meters by 43.5 meters). It was probably created by an object 10-18 feet (3-5 meters) long, HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson estimated. That's less than a third the length of the asteroid that hit Earth's atmosphere near Chelyabinsk. Mars' atmosphere, however, is much thinner than the one surrounding Earth, making the Red Planet more vulnerable to asteroid strikes. A study last year found that Mars likely gets hit with more than 200 asteroids annually.

See it! Mars is very bright now

Full moon – Mars at opposition – July 27, 2018 via Raul Cortes in Monterrey, Mexico. Moon and Mars over Eleven Mile Canyon in Arizona – July 26, 2018 – from Stephanie Longo.

Peter Lowenstein, who captured the video above, wrote: “Early on Thursday morning (July 26, 2018) Mars was observed setting over Chikanga township near Mutare, Zimbabawe). The planet is at present in opposition and is closer to Earth and brighter than it has been since 2003. It therefore remained visible until the dawn sky was quite light and only disappeared after being overwhelmed by a bright pink Belt of Venus. 700 still images were captured between 5.32 and 6.20 am and used to produce this 21-second time-lapse animation, whose motion has been speeded up about 140 times.”

Mars and a moondog. Marsha Kirschbaum wrote: “I wanted very much to shoot the opposition of Mars on the 27th, but my schedule wouldn’t allow it. I went for a mad dash to the Sierras 2 days before to catch Mars rising. I had to leave the San Francisco Bay Area to escape the fog only to find smoke from the Ferguson Forest Fire mixed in with high clouds. Mars was so bright that it shown through the haze anyway [lower right of photo]. The moon was so bright that it created a sun dog to the right of it.” View larger. | John Ashley was in Kalispell, Montana, when he captured the images to make this composite. The bright object here is the moon, and the 2nd-brightest is Mars. John said the image “… spans almost 5 hours, and you’ll need to enlarge the photo to see all of the planets. At dusk on July 24, Jupiter (top right) and Saturn (just below the moon) emerged from the deepening blue, and Saturn accompanied a 94 percent gibbous moon through the night … reddish Mars rose above the southeastern horizon, clipping the Blasdel Barn on its westward journey. Moon images 3 minutes apart, planet images 1:30 minutes apart.” Nikon D750, Rokinon 35mm lens. Click here for a photo of John that night he said he was “fending off a vicious cloud of mosquitoes …” Peter Ryan wrote on July 24, 2018: “I had an itch to capture Mars coming up by the Newport Bridge in Rhode Island.” Watch for the moon to sweep past both Saturn and Mars in the last week of July 2018. Read more. Moon and Mars over Singapore, July 25, 2018, by A. Kannan. Mars and the moon shining through summer “monsoon” clouds in Tucson, Arizona, July 24, 2018, by Eliot Herman. Nikon D850 20.0 mm f/1.4. Rob Pettengill captured this image of Mars on July 23, 2018, as the global dust storm raging on the planet since June was in full swing. He wrote: “Dusty Mars captured with a small telescope. Good seeing conditions in Austin, Texas, gave me a chance to capture hints of surface detail and the south polar cap for the first time during this dust-obscured opposition. Mars is finally above 24 arc seconds in size today.” Chirag Upreti wrote on July 20, 2018: “Light pollution from New York City is not conducive to night sky photography, but planets can be visualized as they make their way across the city scapes. Here Mars is seen near the Freedom Tower, framed between the trees that line the Hudson Waterfront Walkway near Newport, New Jersey.” 4-shot panorama, merged own Lightroom CC. 150mm, f/9, ISO 800 and 2 sec shutter speed. Gowrishankar Lakshminarayanan created this composite of Mars moving across the night sky, with NYC’s Freedom Tower in the foreground, with 67 photos taken July 20, 2018, and later manually aligned in PhotoShop. He wrote: “After doing some calculations, I zeroed in on the approximate location using the combination of Stellarium and The Photographer’s Ephemeris. But then I realized after going on site that the place with that lat/long is not accessible. I had to back out a little bit, and hence you see Mars not clipping but going over Freedom Tower’s spire. It wasn’t clearest of nights, with some thin clouds passing by, due to which the Mars transit isn’t perfect.” Not perfect but still awesome, Gowri! Thank you. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400 mm F4.5-5.6 L Lens 263mm at ISO 3200, F8.0, 2s with Image stabilization. Mars, from Tucson, on July 19. Eliot Herman wrote: “Mars is bright and dominates the sky as it approaches its close opposition. Finally a clear night without monsoon clouds. This is a stack of images (every 5 minutes) acquired immediately after moonset, assembled and adjusted in Photoshop. Click here for a deconvoluted version showing more stars.” Nikon D850 20.0 mm f/1.4. Mars on July 14, from Johnnyxbox Childers, who wrote: “Bright Mars captured in the wee minutes of Saturday, while practicing new photographic techniques.” Kym Baldwin captured this image on July 14, 2018, at Cape May, New Jersey. Mars is the bright object on the left. Kym wrote: “We spent an evening on the beach in Cape May shooting the Milky Way. It’s humbling being able to see something so great dance over our heads.” Jim Powell wrote: “Mars at 3 a.m. July 15, 2018. Only 12 days away from opposition, and it looks like those dust storms are starting to calm down a little bit. I’m seeing more detail today than I did 9 days ago when I last observed Mars.” Click here for updates on the Opportunity rover on Mars it went silent in June due to Mars dust. Matt Pollack captured Mars from Little Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. Read more about this photo. Linda Cook in Manzanita, Oregon, caught a meteor appearing to point toward Mars on July 12, 2018. It’s meteor season, by the way! EarthSky’s meteor guide is here. The Antarctic Report on Facebook posted this photo on July 14, 2018, and wrote: “Homage to Mars! Only 16 days to its closest approach to Earth since 2003 … one of the rare times the red planet becomes brighter than Jupiter in our skies. This photo, looking across the sea ice from McMurdo Station, by Stephen Allinger, NSF.” Note the view here is reversed from most of the photos on this page, which show Mars to the left of the Milky Way. In this photo from Antarctica, it appears to the right. Gary Peltz – who is on a 3-week road trip – wrote on July 11: “What a fantastic night it was after hitting 104 F yesterday! This is Whiskeytown Lake just west of Redding, California, last night. Mars rising big and bright lower left and reflecting in the water.”
Here’s why Mars is so bright now. Earth is the blue dot. Mars is the red dot. We’re about to pass between Mars and the sun, so the distance between our 2 worlds is small now. The exact date of the Mars opposition is July 27, 2018. Reginald Solomon wrote on July 6, 2018: “A bright, but mostly featureless Mars due to the global dust storm. Through the eyepiece, Mars was bold and bright, with minor hints of albedo features near the poles. I created a composite image from three separate observations to illustrate the impact of the current storm on planet detail and the increasing size of the planet as it nears opposition and perigee.” Raul Cortes in Monterrey, Mexico, captured the constellation Scorpius, the famous Teapot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius, Saturn, and Mars on July 10. Peter Ryan wrote on July 8, 2018: “I went out to grab a picture of the Milky Way on the coast of Rhode Island over in Newport. When I got done I noticed the red dot on the lower left and couldn’t believe my eyes that it was Mars.” Dennis Chabot wrote on July 8, 2018: “Mars this morning. It’s very bright now and big in the sky.” Notice that it’s also red in color. The brightness and red color will let you identify Mars fairly easily. Watch for it in the east – in the direction opposite the sunset – in mid-evening or later. Mars will be in the west at dawn. Deidre Horan in Dublin, Ireland, caught Mars setting in the west on the morning of July 7, 2018. Nikolaos Pantazis in Peloponnisos, Greece, caught bright Mars rising in the east in mid-evening – along with the Milky Way – on July 6, 2018. In this photo, Mars is the bright object on the left, above the ridge of the mountain. Peter Lowenstein in Mutare, Zimbabwe, caught the moon and Mars setting on the morning of July 1, 2018. The bright dot near the horizon is Jupiter. For about 2 months – around July 7 to September 7 – Mars will supersede Jupiter in brightness. Read more.

Astronomy > Are YOU cut out for Mars?

Do you have what it takes to go on a space mission to the Red Planet?

You'll live for many months in a tight space, with very little privacy. You'll need great patience and a sense of humor, because you'll have to get along with the same people for months without a break. You'll need to follow detailed instructions without complaint. But you'll also need to make quick, independent decisions because once you reach Mars , you'll face countless problems no human has ever seen before.

Think you can handle it? Take this quiz to find out!

Rate your answer to each question. When you're done, click the button to find out your score.

Pale Red Dot… for now

I do so love high-resolution full-color enormous images of galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

But there are times when a low-res, mostly black, and maybe-kinda-medium-sized snapshot fills my heart with wonder.

More Bad Astronomy

Such is the case now. Witness this unassuming photo, and let your imagination soar.

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, a very tiny spacecraft on its way to the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That is an image taken by MarCO-B, aka “Wall-E,” and it shows Mars. You can see the planet as a simple red dot, unresolved, an entire world literally too far away and too small to appear as anything but a point of light.

But that will change, and very soon.

MarCO-B is one of two spacecraft (along with its redundant twin, MarCO-A, nicknamed EVE, naturally) that comprise Mars Cube One, a mission to Mars. Launched along with NASA’s InSight lander on May 5, 2018, they have been cruising for all these months toward the Red Planet, and after traveling for 400 million km are now nearing their target.

This image — the first one of Mars by the spacecraft — was taken from a distance of about 8 million kilometers, a fair distance, about 20 times the distance of the Moon from the Earth. It was taken using the MarCO-B’s wide-field camera, which is why Mars is just a dot. At that distance, Mars’s 6,800 km diameter appears to be just 0.03° across (roughly 2 arcminutes, where the Moon is 30 arcminutes wide as seen from Earth). If you were sitting on MarCO-B (which would be uncomfortable, as you’ll see in a moment), Mars would just barely be discernible as a disk, maybe if you squinted.

The wide-field camera has a 752 x 480 pixel detector on it, and sees 138° across the diagonal that means Mars is far smaller than a pixel wide. For the moment. The spacecraft are still on their way, headed for a rendezvous on Nov. 26. Given that timing, Mars will stay a dot in this camera until just a day or two before MarCO-B passes the planet.

Mars (circled) as seen by MarCO-B, along with various parts of the spacecraft labeled. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

But there’s also a narrow-field camera, which has a 6.8° diagonal view to it, Mars is already a couple of pixels wide. However, the cameras are mounted on opposite sides of the spacecraft, and since this was a test pointing engineers used the wide camera to maximize their chance of success. We’ll get better views of Mars soon enough.

All this aside, there are a couple of reasons this image struck me so. For one thing, MarsCO-B and its twin are small. They’re CubeSats, a bit like LEGO spacecraft, assembled from smaller, versatile cube-shaped units — in this case, six of them. Each MarCO is a rectangular parallelepiped just 10 x 20 x 30 centimeters on a side. I’ve had plates of nachos bigger than that. To be able to fling one, let alone two, of these minisats into space all the way to Mars is a feat unto itself.

Artwork depicting the pair of Mars Cube One satellites on their way to Mars. Credit: NASA

But the bigger reason is what they mean. They’ll be used as backup communication relays for InSight, the spacecraft that will land on Mars and which comprises the main goal of the mission. A previous spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will be used as the primary communication relay, but the MarCO twins will also be used to see if they can be used to perform such a task. They have a flat rectangular antenna on one face that will be used to send telemetry and images back to Earth during the rendezvous.

The Earth and Moon from a million kilometers away, seen by Mars Cube One-B on May 8, 2018 (annotated). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If this works, it will prove that such small (and inexpensive — that’s how two redundant versions could be flown!) spacecraft can do far more than you’d expect at first glance, and could be key players for interplanetary missions.

CubeSats have been around for a while, and I remember wondering what the heck they could be used for back when I first read about them. And now, here we are… or more accurately, there they are, flying to Mars. I have since learned that my own initial lack of imagination should not be used as a limiter on that of others.

That’s a pretty good lesson.

I’ll note that while InSight will touch down on the dusty surface of Mars, the two CubeSats will fly past the planet, heading into space. But they’ll still be orbiting the Sun forever, pioneers of a new type of spacecraft and a new way of thinking about exploring the planets.

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