The NASA rover Curiosity is just getting its work underway, but photographing a lunar eclipse on Mars has to stand out as a remarkable achievement. Think about the technical challenges here – besides safely landing this one ton hunk of metal and technology on the martian surface:
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, dispatched to determine if the planet most like Earth in the solar system could have supported microbial life, has taken on a second job – moonlighting as an astronomer.
Last week, Curiosity outfitted its high-resolution camera with protective filters and took pictures of the sun as Phobos, one of Mars’ two small moons, sailed by.
It was a tricky shoot. Phobos and its sister moon Deimos are closer to Mars than our moon is to Earth, so they shoot across the sky relatively quickly. Phobos takes less than eight hours to circle Mars. Deimos takes about 30 hours to make the trip.
Last Thursday, the moons started to cross paths.
“Phobos grazed the edge of the sun, as seen from Curiosity. We had basically a partial eclipse,” astronomer Mark Lemmon, with Texas A&M University, told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.
The rover took more than 600 images with its left and right cameras, about 100 of which captured some part of the eclipse. Not all the pictures have been radioed back to Earth. (Reuters News)
Not only did the timing and camera position have to be precise, Curiosity had help from the rover Opportunity on the other side of Mars, also shooting images of the eclipse. The next eclipse is in eleven months when Curiosity should be in an even better position to observe an eclipse from another planet.
A remarkable achievement. Now back to work on Gale Crater.