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Take a guess…

March 3, 2010

As the Sun slowly dips below a distant hill and the night draws in, a soft blue glow spills into the sky, lighting up a desolate desert landscape in one spectacular moment* before the day ends. This serene vista is perhaps one of my favourite images of all time. Can you guess where it was that this sunset was captured? Hey, don’t just click the “read more” button, I want you to really have a go at guessing.

You might have noticed how small the sun is, in fact it’s 2/3rds the size it should be. That’s because this photo wasn’t taken from our planet but rather from the surface of one of our planetary neighbours, Mars. This spectacular image was taken by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, this time last year, as it looked in to the west towards Gustev Crater. The “hill” that the sun is setting behind is actually the rim of Gustev Crater, 80km away. Cool eh? The terrain in the foreground is a rocky outcrop called “Jibsheet” (who thinks of these names?) that Spirit had spent several weeks examining. If you look REALLY closely you might be able to make out the rover’s tracks in the sand to the left (well according to NASA, but what do they know).

Getting the rover to take pretty pictures of sunsets also serves another important purpose. Namely, gathering scientific data. But i’ll bore you with that another time. Instead, here’s another PRETTY PICTURE.

What you can just about make out is the Phoenix lander as it descends in front of the 10km wide Heimdall crater. The image is slightly misleading since it looks like the lander is falling right into the crater (that would suck) but the probe is actually 20km in front of it. This image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it travels 300km above the surface of mars.

Images courtesy of NASA.

Oh and you can find many more stunning high-resolution photos of Mars at HiRise.

*actually the Sun’s glow can last up to two hours after twilight as the Sun’s rays reflect off particles of dust high up in the Martian atmosphere. But you know what, I did have that included initially. That is until I realised that the passage: “lighting up a desolate desert landscape in one spectacular moment which actually lasts up to two hours due to certain atmospheric conditions so it wouldn’t be a “moment” exactly but rather an elongated period of time,  before the day ends” sounded really really bad.

Poetic license 1
Scientific accuracy 0

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