If you happened to be outside last Friday night, and spotted a bright red 'star' shining down, you were very likely seeing the planet Mars. As it happens, there was someone looking back at us that night, as NASA's Curiosity rover snapped the above picture shortly after the sun set over the rim of Gale Crater.
Although Curiosity has been on the surface of Mars since August 6th, 2012, this is the first image of Earth that the rover has captured. Opportunities don't come along very often, since the fine particles of dust in the Martian atmosphere often spoil the view of the night sky there. Curiosity's high-resolution Mastcams are more than good enough to pick out objects when conditions are clear enough, though.
In this case, not only could the rover see Earth, it was also able to pick out the moon as well!
Curiosity took these pictures from a location called Dingo Gap. It was pausing to take these sightseeing pictures while the NASA team here on Earth was assessing a large sand dune in the Gap, which they were possibly going to drive the rover across. Given the problems that Spirit and Opportunity have encountered with sand in the past, this would be an excellent test of Curiosity's abilities, while saving the rover from more wear and tear on its wheels.
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This isn't the only picture of Earth taken from Mars. Curiosity's smaller cousin, Spirit, snapped an image of home back in early March of 2004, a couple of months after it landed. NASA's Mars Global Surveyor captured a picture of both Earth and Jupiter in May of 2003, as it orbited the planet, which showed off both our moon and the Galilean moons of Jupiter. More recently, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a similar picture (just of Earth and the moon, though) using its HiRISE camera — which it normally uses to take amazing high-resolution photos of the Martian surface.
Just like the first Pale Blue Dot image taken by Voyager 1, and the more up-to-date version that Cassini captured from Saturn last year, it's great to look back on our tiny haven in this universe. It gives fresh perspective on who we are and where we come from, but it's also a glimpse of where we can go in the future, as humans may be looking up into the Martian sky within the next decade, to see that sight for themselves.
(Images courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU)
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