Backyard Observatory

NASA's Curiosity Rover Took a Picture of Earth and Venus in the Mars Sky

The rover snapped a picture of the Maritan night sky in spring.

MArs night sky earth venus
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SSI

The Curiosity rover is a busy robot. It doesn't generally have time for brunch or late-night games of Fortnite. But every now and then it snaps a photo that allows us here on Earth to go beyond the important scientific work it's doing to appreciate how amazing it is to have research taking place on the surface of Mars. 

About 75 minutes after local sunset on June 5, Curiosity aimed its Mastcam up into the Martian sky to snap a picture of Earth and Venus looking like stars over the red planet. It snapped a "two-image twilight panorama [that] reveals Earth in one frame and Venus in the other," NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. "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."

the night sky on Mars
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SSI

The Mastcam is the same tool the rover has used to take stunning panoramas like the incredibly high-resolution image of the Martian landscape it took late last year. 

The goal of the image wasn't just to spot Earth but to get a look at the twilight brightness on Mars. It's spring in Mars' southern hemisphere where Curiosity is hanging about. "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 from the Space Science Institute.

Toward the bottom of the images, you can see the top of a rock formation called Tower Butte. Curiosity has been exploring this region for more than a year. This image should get people excited about NASA's next rover mission to Mars, Perseverance, which will land on the red planet in February 2021. It's currently scheduled to launch on July 20, 2020.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.