By now we should be used to Curiosity’s “firsts,” but it doesn’t make them any less spectacular. In the rover’s latest mind blowing achievement, the one-ton robot has once again gazed at the stars, but this time it picked out the faint light of the two massive asteroids Ceres and Vesta.
Both asteroids orbit the sun inside the solar system’s asteroid located between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Another NASA mission, Dawn, was exploring Vesta from 2011 to 2012 and now the spacecraft is on its way to Ceres — an asteroid that is so big that it has also been designated a dwarf planet.
Curiosity managed to pick out the two objects during the Martian night on April 20, both showing up as small streaks in the frame of the 12 second Mastcam exposure. Mars’ smallest moon, Deimos, was also in shot and very bright in comparison.
“This imaging was part of an experiment checking the opacity of the atmosphere at night in Curiosity’s location on Mars, where water-ice clouds and hazes develop during this season,” said camera team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M; University, College Station. “The two Martian moons were the main targets that night, but we chose a time when one of the moons was near Ceres and Vesta in the sky.”
Curiosity is currently carrying out drilling operations in Gale Crater, at “the Kimberly” — an interesting location that appears to possess geologically young rocky outcrops. The mission will sample the drilled material to further our understanding about the past habitable potential of Mars.