This year, stuck in lockdown, many of us will have looked to the skies for some escapism, and it has not disappointed. So far we have been treated to a Super Pink Moon, the annual visit of the Lyrids Meteor Shower, and this weekend hopefully a Ring of Fire eclipse. But another solitary soul has been looking skywards on a different planet, and in doing so caught a glimpse of home.
On its 2,784th sol, or Martian day, NASA’s Curiosity rover took a peek at the night sky, about 75 minutes after sunset. Its Mast Camera then took two pictures – one of Earth, and one of Venus – which have been combined together to form a stunning panorama shot of Curiosity’s view.
If you’re squinting at the picture to find the pinpoints of light, do not fret. Normally the planets would look like very bright stars from Mars’ distance. However, the Red Planet is particularly dusty at this time of year, which means that more sunlight is reflected, brightening the surrounding sky.
“Even moderately bright stars were not visible when this image of Venus was taken,” Mark Lemmon, Mastcam co-investigator of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement. “Earth also has bright twilights after some large volcanic eruptions.”
In the bottom left corner of the image, you may have spotted a rather ominous structure. This is in fact the top of Mars’ Tower Butte, a rock structure on the slope of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), which Curiosity has been traversing since 2014. Just before the rover’s journey round the mountain began it snapped a gorgeous shot of the Earth and our Moon. With less high-altitude dust around, Curiosity’s Mastcam had a much clearer view of its home planet in the twilight sky.
However, Earth has not been the only object to spark Curiosity’s curiosity. Back in 2015, the rover sent back images of a stunning blue sunset on Mars. At the time, Lemmon explained in a statement that “the colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently.”