For fans and enthusiasts of space exploration, the name Kevin Gill ought to be a familiar one. As a software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who specializes in data visualization and analysis, he has a long history of bringing space exploration to life through imagery. Among his most recent offerings is a very interesting pic taken by the Curiosity rover early in its mission.
The image (featured above) shows Phobos, Mars’ largest moon, as a partially-illuminated sliver in the Martian sky during the day. This photo was taken by Curiosity‘s Mast Camera (MastCam) on the 45th Martian day of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission – aka. MSL Sol 45. This corresponds to September 21st, 2012, here on Earth, which was about six weeks after the rover landed in the Gale Crater on Mars.
The raw image, which can be found here, was taken as part of a series that captured the landscape all around the rover as it made its way to a region located about 400 m (1,300 ft) to the east of Bradbury Landing (where the rover touched down). Universe Today reported on this image at the time, with our publisher Fraser Cain declaring that it was “the most dramatic space picture of the year!”
At the time, this image was arguably the clearest photo ever taken of the Martian satellite, which measures 13 km (8 mi) in diameter and has been spotted many times over the years by Martian rovers. Most of these images were rather grainy, however, or were of the moon during a solar transit (where it passed in front of the Sun causing a partial eclipse).
This area is known as Glenelg, which is characterized by the natural intersection of three kinds of terrain – one of which is layered bedrock, which made it a good spot to take Curiosity’s first drill samples. The drill and scoop samples that Curiosity would subsequently collect provided the crucial evidence that liquid water once flowed on Mars, a major objective of the rover mission.
Kudos to Kevin Gill for resurrecting this gem and giving it some polish to make Phobos really shine!
Further Reading: Kevin Gill