Observing Mars during the 1997 opposition takes on added significance because 3 spacecraft from the Earth's space faring nations will be cruising towards the Red Planet. The Mars Global Surveyor, Mars '96 and Mars Pathfinder missions all launch near the end of 1996, arriving in 1997. Pathfinder is specifically requesting the assistance of the amateur and professional astronomical community for information about Mars prior to landing at Ares Vallis, Chryse Planitia (32.8W, 19.5N) on July 4, 1997. Because Pathfinder's entry behind its aeroshell and descent on its parachute are dependent on the atmospheric density with altitude, which varies significantly with dust loading, and the algorithm that controls landing contains a priori best estimates of atmospheric parameters, the Project is intensely interested in knowing the status of the martian atmosphere during final approach. In addition, the first few sols' activity scenarios can be optimized if the Project has good estimates of surface temperature and solar insolation. Both of these factors have prompted the Mars Pathfinder Project to coordinate this MarsWatch home page for monitoring Mars and its atmospheric conditions during opposition leading up to our landing. We invite your active participation and hope you will join us in exploring our neighboring world in 1997.
Dr. Matthew Golombek
Mars Pathfinder Project Scientist
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