World first: ANIMATED GIF of Mercurian SUN ZOOM from MARS
Rover gives the nod to the history of astronomy
Ever wondered what on earth the Mars Rover Curiosity is actually doing all the way out there on the surface of the Red Planet? Staring into space, that's what.
Whilst peering up at the stars last week, the car-sized nuclear powered prowler caught sight of the planet Mercury passing in front of the sun, representing the first time a planetary transit has been viewed from the surface of anywhere but dear green earth.
In true Buzzfeed style, the whole historical incident has been immortalised by NASA as an animated gif image.
Click here for proper size
"This is a nod to the relevance of planetary transits to the history of astronomy on Earth," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a member of the Mastcan science team. "Observations of Venus transits were used to measure the size of the solar system, and Mercury transits were used to measure the size of the sun."
The observations were made on June 3, 2014, from Curiosity, which is currently inside Gale Crater on Mars. The star-gazing machine also glimpsed two sunspots which are about the size of earth.
Many earthbound space cadets will remember Venus passing between the Earth and the Sun in June 2012. More still will be looking forward to Mercury doing the same in May 2016. Curiosity will see Mercury move past the Sun from its viewpoint during April of next year. ®