You see that tiny blue dot sticking out amidst sand and rock bathed in shades of red and brown? That’s NASA’s Curiosity rover trucking up the lower part of Mount Sharp. About 200 miles above, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) looked down on the car-sized rover and snapped an image of it.
This image, captured on June 5, 2017, is one of several MRO takes each year of the rover according to NASA. About every three months, MRO takes an image of Curiosity to monitor changes in the terrain immediately around the rover. The powerful HiRISE camera can resolve features at just 4 feet across from high above the red planet’s surface.
Check out the telescopic lens on this thing.
When the image of Curiosity was taken, the rover was busy heading towards a series of outcropping where hematite had been identified from Mars orbit. Mission controllers back on Earth use all the tools on and above Mars to make each mission go smoothly. And find the best places to explore.
You may be wondering what’s going on with the colors here. NASA often uses enhanced-color to tease features out of an image. While Curiosity might shine blue in this image, it wouldn’t look this blue if you were on the surface of Mars looking at it.
Without HiRISE’s ability to capture color images, scientists wouldn’t know if they were looking at a rover or a piece of exposed bedrock.
What’s Curiosity up to today?
Nearly five years after landing on the red planet, Curiosity is still cruising around. Last weekend, Curiosity drove 32 meters and pulled up to a rock slab about the size of a dinner table.
Curiosity’s Mastcam will take a series of images of this rock while three rocky targets nearby get the a once over by the rover’s chemical analyzing instruments. Once this is finished, the rover will head east and check out more rock formations.
Curiosity will also take this opportunity to point its Mastcam up instead of down. The camera will image another rock, but this one won’t be on Mars’ surface. Mastcam will image the Martian moon Deimos. It’s only about 8 miles in diameter, but the resolution on the Mastcam is powerful enough to get a good look at it.
Mark Salvatore, a participating scientist for the Curiosity mission, says scientists can use these images to get a better picture of how Deimos’ orbit changes over time.
Right now, the Curiosity mission is in a phase called “restricted planning.” Basically, the team doesn’t have the time to plan the rover’s mission on a daily basis and downlink all the data. So, the team plans two-days worth tasks for the rover to complete. The team is planning to meet again today to get another two-day plan together.
Here’s one more image of Curiosity taken by MRO back in 2015.
Image credits: NASA