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Space photo of the week: Can you spot the hidden robot on the slopes of Mars?

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover appears as a dark speck in this image captured from directly overhead by the agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO.



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover appears as a dark speck in this image captured from directly overhead by the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

What it is: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover

When it was published: Feb. 29, 2024

Where it is: Upper Gediz Vallis, in Mars’ Gale Crater

Why it’s so special: Can you spot the hidden robot on Mars?

In this photo, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been exploring the surface of Mars since 2012, appears as a tiny, dark speck. The rover is seen on the steep slopes of Upper Gediz Vallis in a vast landscape scarred by dark and light bands.

Curiosity’s current location is a massive achievement for the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who built and now remotely operate the rover from 203 million miles (326 million kilometers) away. Curiosity spent three years gradually climbing Gediz Vallis Ridge; after three failed attempts, it finally succeeded in August 2023, according to NASA.

The space agency thinks water flowed in this region 3 billion years ago, and carried mud and boulders with it to create the ridge. Early last year, Curiosity found evidence of water and waves on Mars.

This image was taken on Dec. 29, the 4,051st Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission, and NASA published the photo Feb. 29. The view from space was captured directly overhead by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting the Red Planet since March 2006. According to NASA, the camera is capable of viewing objects as small as a dinner table on Mars’ surface.

In addition to the Curiosity rover, NASA has its Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Also in orbit, alongside the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, are NASA’s Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft. A tiny remote-controlled helicopter named Ingenuity, which accompanied the Perseverance rover on its Martian journey for the last three years, recently sustained irreparable damage on its final, 72nd flight.

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Jamie Carter is a freelance journalist and regular Live Science contributor based in Cardiff, U.K. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners and lectures on astronomy and the natural world. Jamie regularly writes for Space.com, TechRadar.com, Forbes Science, BBC Wildlife magazine and Scientific American, and many others. He edits WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com.

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