NASA Orbiter Spies Curiosity Ripping Up Mars Dust

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When exploring an alien planet, it helps if you have a buddy watching your back. And once again, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has proven why it’s rover Curiosity’s BFF.

PHOTOS: Year One: Mars Rover Curiosity's Key Discoveries

In a lovely image captured by the powerful High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on board the MRO, the one-ton Mars rover can be easily seen with wheel tracks zigzagging through the Martian landscape, avoiding potential hazards.

The photo opportunity came on Dec. 11, 2013, as the Mars satellite flew over Curiosity’s stomping ground, Gale Crater. At the time, Curiosity had driven 2.86 miles (4.61 kilometers) from its Aug. 5, 2012, landing site Bradbury Landing.

Color version of the Dec. 11, 2013, observation by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Note the geological variations in the surrounding landscape.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This isn’t the first overpass of the MRO, and it certainly won’t be the last. The NASA spacecraft regularly orbits over Gale Crater, assisting rover drivers by assessing the surrounding landscape for obstacles or any points of interest.

NEWS: Rough Roving: Curiosity's Wheel Damage 'Accelerated'

Observations from the MRO are now especially valuable since rover mission managers noticed accelerated wear and tear on Curiosity’s wheels. Dramatic holes and rips in the thin aluminum have caused concern and care is being taken to ensure the six-wheeled robot doesn’t cross any unnecessarily abrasive terrain.