For nearly eight years, NASA's Curiosity Rover has been rummaging through the Martian surface for clues to ancient life and investigating the climatic and geological conditions for further understanding of our neighbouring planet. On June 5, the car-sized rover took a break from its usual task and look towards the Martian sky where it captured an image of Earth and Venus as seen from Mars.
According to NASA, the image of Earth and Venus were taken 75 minutes past local sunset on the planet Mars which happens to be Curiosity rover's 2,784th Martian day or sol on the planet. During this time, "there's more dust in the air on Mars."
The shot was captured using Curiosity's Mast Camera or MastCam which is a two-camera system that can take true-colour images at 1600X1200 pixels and up to 10 frames per second video at 720p. The two images were combined to create a twilight panorama revealing Earth in one frame and Venus in the other fading in Mars' night sky.
Both the planets are merely visible as tiny specks in the sky due to the amount of dust in the air and massive distance. As per the statement, on usual days, the two neighbouring planets appear as luminous stars.
"Both planets appear as mere pinpoints of light, owing to a combination of distance and dust in the air; they would normally look like very bright stars," reads the statement.
The two pictures as captured by the rover places on Crater Gale of Mars were captured to observe understand "twilight brightness" particularly at this time.
"The brief photo session was partly to gauge the twilight brightness: During this time of year on Mars, there's more dust in the air to reflect sunlight, making it particularly bright," said Mastcam co-investigator Mark Lemmon of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Even moderately bright stars were not visible when this image of Venus was taken," Lemmon said. "Earth also has bright twilights after some large volcanic eruptions."
It is noted that in 2014 Curiosity's images of Earth and its Moon were significantly different and the celestial objects appeared much brighter and illuminated in the red planet's sky. However, the recent images may not be bringing forth the planets' brilliant lights due to "high-altitude dust in the Martian air" at the moment. Curiosity often shifts its focus to stargaze and take images of passing astronomical objects. Apart from Earth, the mission has also sent images of passing asteroids, Mercury, and more to its home planet.
The image also gives a glimpse of the top of a rock feature named Tower Butte in the "clay-bearing unit" that Curiosity has been investigating for almost a year now.