Curiosity Mars rover spots Earth and Venus in bright twilight sky

Earth and Venus captured in a composite image by the Curiosity Mars rover. Click on the photo for a more zoomed-in view. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity rover normally acts as a robotic geologist, examining rocks and soil in Gale Crater on the slopes of Mount Sharp to help scientists better understand the planet’s evolution and habitability. But it occasionally trains its cameras skyward and in two recent photos, seen here combined into a single shot, the rover captured Earth and Venus as almost invisible specks of light in a dusty sky.

The images were snapped by the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, about 75 minutes after sunset on 5 June. The photos were taken to help  judge the increased brightness of the twilight sky at a time of year when more dust is suspended in the atmosphere than usual.

“Even moderately bright stars were not visible when this image of Venus was taken,” said Mastcam co-investigator Mark Lemmon of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Earth also has bright twilights after some large volcanic eruptions.”

Since landing on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has beamed back captivating views of Earth and its moon, passing asteroids, Mercury and the martian moons Phobos and Deimos transiting the Sun.