Curiosity Spots Daytime Phobos Moon Crescent


As we’ve already established, Mars rover Curiosity is a damn fine robotic geologist. As it turns out, it’s also a pretty great astronomer.

Now, as if spurred-on by the fantastic series of photos of the Mars moon Phobos partially eclipsing the sun last week, Curiosity has, once again, proven its astronomical finesse by taking a photograph of Phobos’ crescent… during the Martian day.

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The eerie thing about this photograph is that it’s replicated every day on Earth. Depending on the lunar phase and where you’re located on the planet, you’ll often see the moon’s semi-circular crescent shine bright during daytime. In this shot from Mars, it appears the sun is located below the bottom of the picture, lighting up the “bottom” of Phobos. This could be the Mars equivalent of a ‘Cheshire moon‘ — inspired by the grin of the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The comparison between the moon and Phobos is obvious, except Phobos is more lumpy and potato-shaped. In a very rough attempt to expose the cratered surface of Phobos, I’ve played with the levels of a zoomed version of the moon (right). It’s horribly overexposed, but through the noise of the raw image, Phobos’ chunky shape can clearly be seen. There’s potentially ridges of a couple of craters — although some expert analysis from a planetary scientist would be needed to confirm this.

BIG PIC: Spacecraft Buzzes Martian Moon Phobos

From a human perspective, however, we should relish in this photograph. As eloquently stated by Universe Today publisher Fraser Cain during the Sept. 27 Google+ Space Hangout (below): “I’m calling it one of the most dramatic space pictures of the year.”

And he’s not wrong.

via Universe Today — h/t Jason Major

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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