- Published on Friday, 07 February 2014 19:32
Nasa's Curiosity rover has been looking back at its home planet - and even send a picture back.
The amazing image reveals the Earth and the moon in the far distance.
It was taken as controllers prepare to send to rover on a risky mission to climb a large sand dune.
The unique view of the twilight sky and Martian horizon taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover includes Earth as the brightest point of light in the night sky.
Earth is a little left of center in the image, and our moon is just below Earth.
Researchers used the left eye camera of Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) to capture this scene about 80 minutes after sunset on the 529th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars on Jan 31st.
'A human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright 'evening stars,' the space agency said.
However, curiosity is not the first rover to photograph home from the red planet.
That honour goes to the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit one hour before sunrise on the 63rd martian day, or sol, of its mission.
The image is a mosaic of images taken by the rover's navigation camera showing a broad view of the sky, and an image taken by the rover's panoramic camera of Earth.
The contrast in the panoramic camera image was increased two times to make Earth easier to see.
Mission controllers were today set to give its Curiosity rover its toughest assignment yet - attempting to drive over a 1m high dune.
Mission controllers say the route, despite the dune, is far safer.
They were concerned their planned route was filled with sharp rocks that could damage the rover's wheels.
Curiosity is on a southwestward traverse of many months from an area where it found evidence of ancient conditions favorable for microbial life to its long-term science destination on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp.
Based on analysis of images taken from orbit by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a location dubbed 'Dingo Gap' was assessed as a possible gateway to a favorable route for the next portion of the traverse.
A final decision on whether to pass through this valley will ride on evaluation of a short drive planned this week toward the top of the dune that lies across 'Dingo Gap.'
'The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check,' said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for Curiosity.
'We'll take a peek over the dune into the valley immediately to the west to see whether the terrain looks as good as the analysis of orbital images implies.'
The dune is about 3 feet (1 meter) high at its center, tapered off at both sides of the gap between two low scarps.
Recent close-up pictures reveal multiple punctures, rips and dimples in Curiosity's metal 'tyres'.
The track pattern — dot-dash-dash-dash, dot-dash-dash-dot, dot-dash-dot-dot ('.--- .--. .-..') — spells out 'JPL' in Morse code, which translates letters and numbers into a series of short ("dot') and long ('dash') signals.
'We have intentionally put holes in the wheels to leave a unique track on Mars,' Nasa said.
'So if we are in sand dunes where we don't have lots of rock features around us, we can use those patterns to do our visual odometry.'
The agency is taking no chances after Nasa's Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009
A color view assembled from images taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) on the east side of the dune shows details of the valley that the rover may traverse this month.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.