Emily LakdawallaAug 03, 2013

Curiosity is copying Cassini's tricks!

Take a look at this amazing photo, captured by Curiosity from the surface of Mars on sol 351 (August 1, 2013). It is unmistakably Phobos. And take my word for it when I tell you that the other bright blob is Deimos. Curiosity caught them both in one shot!

Phobos and Deimos from Curiosity, sol 351 (raw image)
Phobos and Deimos from Curiosity, sol 351 (raw image) Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS

But that's not all. This is the only full-resolution image of both moons that I've seen on the raw image website yet. But there are thumbnails, lots of them, showing that Curiosity got video. Video! Here's an animation of those thumbnails that should whet your appetite for what will be coming once the data finally squeeze through the pipeline to Earth. Deimos is almost lost in the JPEG compression artifacts, but you can see it at the center, and watch Phobos actually cross right in front of it. I've elnarged it by a factor of three without resampling -- these are all the pixels we have right now, but be patient; we'll get more.

That is going to be SO COOL. Curiosity has taken a page out of Cassini's book! Cassini takes mutual event movies all the time, or at least it does when it is orbiting in the plane of Saturn's rings so can see the moons cross each other. These animations are fun to watch, but they also serve a useful scientific purpose: the timing of the crossing and the positions of the two moons in the same frame provide extremely tight constraints on where they are in their orbits. Geometry and science!

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