You may have noticed the word “Perseverance,” with a capital “P,” cartwheeling through your media feeds recently.
The buzz was launched when NASA’s new Mars Rover, Perseverance, completed its six-and-a-half-month journey and made a nail-biting landing on the red planet on February 18. Perseverance has now joined the ranks of NASA’s virtuously-named robotic explorers that have trekked the extraterrestrial surface since Sojourner landed in 1997.
So why all of this excitement over a car-sized robot?
First, Perseverance is a miracle of modern engineering, from the mechanics and materials to the computer code that makes it go. A Mars rover is built to endure the harsh conditions of its new environment, and must be able to withstand being rocketed out of Earth’s atmosphere, exposed to intense radiation in interplanetary space, and dropped to Mars’ rocky surface.
Second, now that it’s on Mars, scientists are excited about the data Perseverance will collect. Perseverance is equipped with the most high-tech instruments yet seen on a rover. It has a camera with a powerful zoom lens to provide exquisite detail of the Martian terrain. Perseverance also has a laser and sensor apparatus to zap rocks and analyze the resulting vapor for its chemical composition.
These devices will be used to search for hints of ancient (alien!) microbial life on Mars, providing insight into the origins of life and the future habitability of the red planet.
Finally, just like during the space race of the 50s and 60s, events like the landing of Perseverance are powerful forces of inspiration for amateur astronomers and future rocket scientists.
Astronomy can open a whole universe of fun for you and your family. Without further ado, here are some ways to get in on the excitement and inspire your family to reach for the stars:
- Intrigued, but don’t know where to start? Too busy to add a new hobby? Begin by following NASA’s astronomy picture of the day (APOD) on Facebook or Instagram, or subscribe to the APOD email list for a daily dose of awe-inspiring cosmic beauty.
- Stay up-to-date on the Perseverance mission. Follow the rover’s journey on the dedicated NASA blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
- For your next movie night, watch a movie that transports you from your couch to the great beyond. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), October Sky (1999), WALL-E (2008), Star Trek (2009), Gravity (2013), and Interstellar (2014) are all great options for the whole family.
- Surround yourself with starry style. Elevate your home’s aesthetic with cosmically inspired décor. For your littlest rocketeer, make the switch from a traditional nightlight to a ceiling star projector.
- Explore NASA’s web pages of curated, age-appropriate STEM enrichment for the K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 grade levels. Discover informational videos, picture books, hands-on projects, games, and more to keep your kids engaged.
- Participate in real science! At Galaxy Zoo, anyone can become involved in crowd-sourced research. Participants can help by classifying galaxy shapes from real photographs. Get started here.
- Deepen your spiritual practice by learning the constellations and studying your birth-stars. Attain a more intimate alignment with the rhythms of the cosmos by learning the seasonal cadence of the stars and planets.
- Have a star-gazing party. Winter is the best time of year for viewing the night sky, but be sure to pick a cloudless night. Dust off the deck chairs, bundle up with cozy blankets and a cup of hot cocoa, and look skyward.
To enhance your viewing experience, consider investing in an entry-level telescope. There are also several apps that can help you identify what you see. Mark your calendar so you don’t miss these astronomical events.
- Build your own telescope. This can be a fun and rewarding challenge for mechanically-minded teens (or parents!) in need of a new pandemic project.
- Try astrophotography or suggest it as a new challenge for the photographer in your family. Wow your friends with out-of-this-world pictures—literally! Maybe you can even be published on APOD. Here’s how to get started.
- Embark on a one-day family adventure to your nearest planetarium. Planetariums host sky shows on domed screens that make you feel immersed in the night sky. After the show, browse fascinating exhibits on astronomy and space exploration.
- Send your future astronauts to Space Camp. Located at the birthplace of America’s space program in Huntsville, Alabama, Space Camp offers an immersive experience learning about space, aviation, robotics, or computers. Even parents can get involved in the fun by participating in an Astronaut Training experience at the Space and Rocket Center.
- Take your next family vacation in a place where you can immerse yourself in an extraterrestrial landscape or see the night sky unobscured from light pollution. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, and Meteor Crater near Flagstaff, Arizona, are all used by scientists to model the conditions of Mars on Earth. Many of these places happen to be near dark sky zones, where you can get a clear view of the Milky Way at any time of year.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to getting involved in astronomy. From adding a little starshine dazzle to your personal aesthetic, to taking far-out family adventures and getting your feet wet with citizen science, there are so many ways for you and your family to reconnect with your cosmic roots.
Don’t forget to have fun and comment below on your family’s foray into the “final frontier!”