NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently took to the skies on its 45th flyby, covering nearly a third of a mile (0.5 kilometer)—and capturing a gorgeous shot of the Red Planet’s sunset in the process.
cleverness It still makes short trips around Mars’ Jezero Crater, and continues to collect data that far exceeds its average operational life expectancy. Ingenuity arrived on the Red Planet aboard NASA Rover Perseverancewhich landed on Jezero Earth in February 2021.
Ingenuity first flew two months later, in April 2021, and was originally commissioned a few test flights to demonstrate its groundbreaking technology. However, having exceeded NASA’s expectations, the Ingenuity mission has expanded to serve as the Perseverance Explorer, which is searching for ancient signs. Mars life and collect samples for future return to Earth. Creativity has now flown a total of 46 times, with a total distance of 6.3 miles (10.1 km).
Related: Mars probe highlights creative helicopter resting on sand dunes (photo)
Flights 45 and 46 were only three days apart, on February 22 and February 25, with Flight 47 expected any day now. Depending on the relative positions of the earth and MarsA transmission between the two planets can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes to reach its destination. For this reason, Creation is designed to take off, fly and land on its own. Mission controllers program each flight and then have to wait for data confirmation that Ingenuity has landed safely. Onboard cameras take pictures that are used to help determine the next steps for Creativity and Perseverance.
Ingenuity’s high-resolution color camera is tilted 22 degrees below the horizon. Thus, the images relayed to NASA from the 4-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter focus primarily on Earth, looking for interesting geological features and potential obstacles ahead.
Occasionally, however, a piece of the Martian sky will appear in one of Ingenuity’s images, serving as a reminder that the rotorcraft is giving us a whole new perspective on the Red Planet. The helicopter took just such a photo on its 45th flight, but with a rare target in the frame — the sun.
The image shows the sun hanging slightly above the horizon of hilltops in the distance, and was taken during sunset on Ingenuity’s 714th Martian day, or day one. Rays shining across the image help illuminate the strange landscape of rolling sand and rock inside Jezero Crater, and it feels like a photo you could take of a desert here in Land. Therein lies its beauty.
These perceived similarities form the basis of our exploration of space in the first place. An image of a sunset from a different planet can be so reminiscent of what we have as it highlights the thin margin between our life-sustaining Earth and other lifeless worlds orbiting our sun and beyond. It symbolizes the nature of Perserverance’s search for ancient Martian life, and raises the question of what other worlds might look like—and whether humanity will see these days as well.
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