SpaceX quietly hosted Mars exploration conference with NASA experts

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket sits on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Elon Musk's SpaceX quietly held an inaugural "Mars Workshop" in Colorado this week with the goal of finding a way to land people on Mars — and soon, Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports.

The big picture: Musk is set on his goal of launching a 2022 uncrewed mission to the red planet, then the first with humans by 2024. With this meeting, SpaceX appears to be teaming up with NASA Mars exploration experts who were requested to join in "active discussions regarding what will be needed to make such missions happen," to make this goal a reality.

NASA reveals strikingly clear Hubble photos of Saturn and Mars

Photo: NASA, ESA, STScI, M. Mutchler (STScI), A. Simon (GSFC) and the OPAL Team, J. DePasquale (STScI)

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured new photos of Saturn and Mars, taken shortly before each was at its closest point to Earth, referred to as being in opposition. This occurs when the Sun, Earth and an outer planet are lined up, with Earth directly in between the two. The outer planet is fully lit up by the Sun as seen from Earth, according to the ESA.

The details: Opposition allows astronomers to notice details on the planet's surface more clearly. The image of Saturn shows its ring system tilted towards Earth, which put its rings and the gaps between them on full display — the rings stretch out eight times the radius of the planet. Saturn was in opposition to Earth on June 27, and Mars will be on July 27, the ESA said.

Hubble's image of Mars shows a "gigantic sandstorm enshrouding the entire planet," as well as the planet's white polar ice caps. These images allow astronomers to examine "how cloud patterns and large-scale structures on other planets in our Solar System change over time," the ESA said.