It might be 54.6 million kilometers (33.9 million miles) away, but sunrises on Mars look a lot like home.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has recently beamed back a new holiday snap of Mars at the crack of dawn, with the morning sun creeping over the edge of Gale Crater. The image was taken by Curiosity’s navigational camera at 08:38 UTC on November 30, 2019, and shared by Doug Ellison, the rover's Engineering Camera Payload Uplink Lead, the following day on Twitter.
“One of the nicest images I have had the fortune of being asked to take,” Ellison explained on Twitter.
Curiosity is a car-sized rover that landed in Mars’ Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. Its mission was to investigate the Martian climate and geology, most notably to see whether the area ever held environmental conditions favorable for life. Over eight years later, the rover is still alive and kicking, regularly sending back images and valuable data to scientists on Earth.
Gale Crater spans 154 kilometers (96 miles) in diameter. Within this vast basin, believed to be formed by a meteor impact some 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago, there is also a mountain rising 5,500 meters (18,000 feet) from the crater floor. As mentioned, the crater has also been a subject of curiosity for scientists as there are hints the crater might have once harbored water and, therefore, perhaps microbial life.
The image is in black-and-white, but sunrises and sunsets can be blue on the Red Planet, as shown in this blue sundown taken by Curiosity back in 2015.
"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," Mark Lemmon, from Texas A&M University and the Curiosity science-team member who planned the observations, explained in 2015. "When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatters all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the sun."
Although Curiosity has been a loyal correspondent over the past few years, it might soon become overshadowed with the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Set to touch down in Jezero crater on Mars in February 2021, the 2020 rover is kitted with even more advanced cameras and instruments, along with more durable armor and wheels. Just like its predecessor, its main mission is to look for signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past and signs of microbial life itself.