Phoenix is cruising to Mars, on its way to a landing in May of next year. And it's now returned its first photo from the cruise. Most of the time, when a Mars spaceship returns its first photo, you expect to see a tiny dot amidst a field of stars, Mars in the forward view, like this exceptionally pretty photo from Rosetta.
But this image is not Mars. Phoenix has no cameras that have a clear line of sight to Mars right now. The spacecraft is cocooned inside a protective shell, so the spacecraft can do nothing but contemplate itself. Here's the photo:
NASA / JPL / University of Arizona
The first image from Phoenix
This work of geometric abstraction is the first image returned from Phoenix during its cruise to Mars, on September 6, 2007. The image was captured by the Robotic Arm Camera, which is designed to take photos inside the trench that the arm will dig into Mars' north polar soil. The camera is staring into the interior of the business end of the robotic arm, its digging scoop. Both camera and scoop are encased within the cruise stage heat shield and backshell, so no light from outside leaks inside; the light source is provided by light-emitting diodes on the camera. The same LEDs will eventually illuminate the interior of any trench dug by Phoenix on Mars.
Very sharp, very clear. It bodes well! Go Phoenix!