The six-wheeled robot provides us with a unique perspective of our beloved and so far only home.
NASA’s Curiosity rover took a break from its usual chores and took the opportunity to look out into the dusty Martian skies and find our planet on it.
The panoramic image, made up of two photographs, was taken 75 minutes after local dusk on June 5, 2020 (or Sun 2,784 from the Curiosity mission). In addition to the Earth, our other planetary neighbor, Venus, can also be seen in the sky.
“In one frame of this sunset you see Earth and in the other, Venus,” explain experts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.”
Both planets appear as simple points of light due to the combination of distance and dust in the air. Normally they would look like two very bright stars.
To make these captures, Curiosity used the same instrument that he commonly uses to make panoramas, the Mast Camera or Mastcam. And planet-watching was not the only goal of this sky-watching session, the mission team was also engaged in studying the luminosity of the Martian sunset.
Currently, in the southern hemisphere of Mars – where Curiosity is located, just below the equator, in a large crater called Gale – it is spring. The red planet takes 687 Earth days to go around the Sun; and a typical day lasts 37 minutes longer than on Earth.
“During the late Martian spring, there are usually quite a few dust particles suspended in the air. They reflect sunlight, illuminating the atmosphere and making it difficult to see objects in the sky, “explains Mark Lemmon, co-researcher and senior scientist at the Colorado Institute of Space Science.
“Something similar happens on Earth when there are large volcanic eruptions and the sunsets are also bright,” he continues. “Even moderately bright stars are not visible in the rover photograph where Venus appears.”
Barely visible at the bottom of the images is a rock formation nicknamed Tower Butte. Curiosity is “climbing” hills of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), which rises from the center of the Gale crater, seeking to understand how water may have shaped the habitable environments of Mars’ past.
NASA’s next rover recently named as Perseverance, will travel to the Jezero crater, touching the Martian surface on February 18, 2021. The window for its launch will open from next July 20.