Astronomy, Media, Pythagorean Astronomy

Pythagorean Astronomy: The Martian Triple

NASA's Perseverance Rover

Artist’s impression of Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter

Over the course of the next month, we’ll see the arrival at Mars of not one, not two, but three spacecraft: Nasa’s Perseverance Rover, with its little helicopter Ingenuity; the Chinese Space Agency’s Tianwen-1 mission, which comprises an orbiting spacecraft, a landing platform and a rover; and the UAE’s Hope mission, which is an orbiting spacecraft.

In this episode we’ll be hearing about the upcoming missions to Mars, and a bit of insight into the Chinese Space Programme.

Of course, a sensible question is: why all the interest in Mars? It’s a dead planet now – or certainly pretty dead – but perhaps that wasn’t always the way. To find out more I spoke to Dr Peter Fawden, whose expertise is the geological history of Mars. Peter is based at the Open University where he works on the imaging cameras of a future mission: the Rosalind Franklin Rover, due to launch in a couple of years. On Earth we can dig up rocks, or go to a cliff, perhaps by a beach, and look at the layers of rock, studying the order in which they were laid down, and taking samples all the time. But what about on Mars, when we can’t get so up-close and personal with the rocks? Well, it turns out, it’s not so very different after all. Peter explains the geological history of Mars, where the Perseverance Rover is going to explore, and what the plans are for Rosalind Franklin rover in a couple of years. We also touch on two very intersting aspects of Mars – water and methane.

While it’s relatively easy to find people working on Nasa and ESA missions, it’s somewhat hard to get information about Chinese missions. Who better to speak to than someone who has their ear to the ground, Freelance journalists Andrew Jones. Andrew writes for a range of publications, where he reports on the Chinese Space Programme. Andrew provides us with some fascinating history of the Chinese Space Programme, and what its other high-profile missions are up to, notably the Chang’e 4 and 5 moon missions.


Dr Peter Fawden
03:30 – Martian Geology
13:30 – Perseverance
17:00 – Water on Mars
21:20 – ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover
25:25 – Methane on Mars

Andrew Jones
29:00 – Chinese Space Agency
38:40 – Chang’e 4 and 5 Moon Missions
45:30 – Tianwen-1 plans
48:20 – Hope

An extended edition of an original broadcast on 2nd February 2021 as part of Pythagoras’ Trousers on Radio Cardiff.