Thanks to Curiosity’s lonely existence, we just got the clearest, most detailed images of a solar eclipse that’s ever been taken from the surface of Mars — at least, the clearest images ever taken by humans.
The moon pictured in the photos above (which were each taken three seconds apart on August 17) is Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, and was in the midst of completing an annular solar eclipse — annular being the type of eclipse that occurs when the perceived size of the moon is significantly smaller than the sun, even though they’re perfectly in line. That’s what gives us that lovely ring of light around Phobos’ irregular, lump-riddled silhouette. And, according to Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University and co-investigator of Curiosity’s MastCam, this is the closest anyone on Mars will ever get to a total eclipse. The annular nature of the eclipse was even a bit of a surprise, as Lemmon notes in the news release:
This one is by far the most detailed image of any Martian lunar transit ever taken, and it is especially useful because it is annular. It was even closer to the sun’s center than predicted, so we learned something.
These images are the first full-resolution frames, and they may even get stitched together to create a film one day. Until then, though, we’ll just have to settle for being some of the first people ever to get to share this incredible Mars’ eye view with our little robot friend. Just try not to think of them as eyes — once you do, it can’t be unseen (sorry). [NASA via RedOrbit.com]