Curiosity Rover Snaps 1st Photos Of Earth And Moon From Mars

Earth is the brightest “star” in Mars’ western evening sky as seen and photographed by the Curiosity Rover on Jan. 31, 2014. As seen through Martian eyes, Earth is in the constellation Pisces near its brightest star Al Rischa. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

How many people can you fit inside a pale blue dot? Try 7 billion. We’re all there along with nearly 9 billion other species in these first photos ever taken of planet Earth by the Curiosity rover.

In this scene, the inset photo shows enlarged view revealing the fainter moon close by. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

The pictures were made on Jan. 31, 2014 from the sandy dunes of Dingo Gap inside Gale Crater and show the Earth setting in the evening sky over the crater’s rim. If you could be there in person, the home planet would appear as a pale blue “star” shining at magnitude -1, a little fainter than Sirius, the brightest star in the skies of both planets.

Standing on the ground next to Curiosity’s location at 4.5 South latitude an observer would face west during twilight this evening to see a brilliant blue Earth in the constellation Pisces. Click to learn more about Earth in the Martian sky. Stellarium

The moon would also be visible very close to the planet and much fainter at around magnitude 2.7. Observers with keen vision might see the two tightly-spaced worlds with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars would come in handy for most of us.

Earth in a telescope in early February as seen from Mars. Stellarium

If you happened to pack your telescope along and pointed it at Earth, you’d be delighted to see our planet as a thick crescent and near its greatest brilliancy. Because Earth orbits the sun inside Mars’ orbit, it passes through phases exactly like Venus and Mercury do as seen from Earth.

These aren’t the first photos of Earth from Mars. The Spirit Rover took a portrait of the home base in 2004 and NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor did the same in 2003 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2007.

Every one of these images is a great treasure. They remind us that Earth swims in a cosmos vast beyond imagination.

Time exposure photo of the starry sky taken by Curiosity on Jan. 31, 2014. Do you recognize any? Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
The view inside Gale Crater from sandy Dingo Gap yesterday Feb. 6, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

13 Responses

  1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Great pics, many thanx for sharing. Especially the one with stars from Mars (at last they took one) (and no, I couldn’t recognize any star, could you?).

    And Earth as Mars’ evening star. This one inspired us the question of which max brightness will reach Earth (as seen from Mars) (will it be like Venus?). Stellarium comes in help and, assuming it’s right, I thought to share the results.
    Like when we watch Venus the magnitude depends on both distance and phase – Earth-Mars distance is getting shorter since months, but Earth seen from Mars is waning.
    The top brightness of Earth seen from Mars was around Christmas, roughly at -1.5 like Sirius. Now Earth is still bright like Sirius, but going down until a New Earth blinded by Sun at close approach at April beginning. At August beginning Earth will shine again like Sirius, this time as morning star.

    That’s much fainter than the -4 magnitude we see of Venus. One reason is, the distance of Earth and Mars orbits is higher than Venus-Earth, for Bode’s law. But another reason, accounting for roughly 1 magnitude of difference, is Venus’ high albedo due to its full clouds covering.
    In fact at Xmas on Mars you could see two evening stars: Earth and Venus, and, while Earth was at -1.5, Venus was much brighter, at -2.7, although farther. Nice that one could “see” the difference in the two planets’ atmospheres even when seeing them pointlike.

    Do you know of other pics of Earth, Venus or stars from Curiosity?

    1. astrobob

      I looked all over for more photos of Earth by Curiosity but only found more star images. Hopefully NASA will publish some good stuff soon.

      1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

        Thank you Bob. I’m interested in more star images, maybe we can rcognize some star pattern. Do you have the link (or raw photo date)?

          1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            I downloaded and compared all the pics. I think these were pics used to get Earth and Moon, plus black shots to remove the hot pixels – no stars here it seems, probably it would need a special camera or mount. For your convenience I send you the collection by email a few with additional notes.

          2. astrobob

            I looked at them all at the time and wondered what was going on with the stars/landscape overlap on some of the frames. You might be right, though I thought I saw repeating patterns in some of the images which would seem to indicate stars rather than hot pixels. I’m going to see if I can get a hold of someone at NASA Monday who can explain. Thanks for looking into this.

          3. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            Yes, repeated patterns. That’s why I didn’t say “noise” but “hot pixels” (typical of all CCDs, fixed and appearing at long exposition)

  2. Quite astonishing pictures Bob.

    Probably, like a few more of your readers I grew up in an age where we didn’t even know whether there were canals on Mars or not, so to see such images as we now see from the Red Planet (not just these, but the new crater impact the other day and all those fantastic panorama shots we now get) is a constant source of amazement to me, and encouragement that there are still people out there carrying the dream and doing great stuff like they do.

    I think that kind of appreciation is lost on later generations who grew up “in the future”.

    I also think that’s partially explains why all of these “hoaxed moon landing” theories gain traction – because it seems so fantastic… and it WAS. I still have a “Man on the Moon” handkerchief stuck in a drawer somewhere.

    P.S. It was great to see Valentina Tereshkova helping to carry the Olympic flag out in the Opening Ceremony at Socci the other day. I can’t help but feel that this world would be a far better place if schools put more emphasis on the people and the technology, and the optimism for the future that helped to drive all that forward and try to help kids to appreciate their world more for the bravery and ingenuity and sense of unity that went into making it. And teach more astronomy, too!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Paul,
      The Mars rovers, Voyager sending news from interstellar space, comet flybys and the November landing on comet 67P, asteroid sampling (Itokawa), 1,075 exoplanet discoveries, the space station – there is MUCH to inspire everyone.

  3. Dick

    The Earth is visible from Mars as a double star; the Moon would be visible alongside it as a fainter companion. The maximum visible distance between the Earth and the Moon would be about 25′, at inferior conjunction of the Earth and the Sun (for the terrestrial observer, this is the opposition of Mars and the Sun). Near maximum elongation (47.4°), the Earth and Moon would shine at apparent magnitudes −2.5 and +0.9, respectively.
    Venus as seen from Mars (when near the maximum elongation from the Sun of 31.7°) would have an apparent magnitude of about −3.2.

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