Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Mars rover Curiosity snapped picture of aftermath of its rocket-powered backpack crash-landing.
Space enthusiasts have been abuzz for days over whether the Mars rover Curiosity captured an extraterrestrial crash. On Friday, NASA declared the mystery solved.
Seconds after the car-size rover parked its six wheels in an ancient crater, a tiny camera under the chassis snapped a picture revealing a smudge on the horizon. The feature disappeared in a later photo.
Was it dirt on the camera lens or a spinning dust devil? It turned out Curiosity spotted the aftermath of its rocket-powered backpack crash-landing in the distance.
It "was an amazing coincidence that we were able to catch this impact," said engineer Steve Sell of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $2.5 billion mission.
The nuclear-powered rover landed in Gale Crater near the equator Sunday night to study whether environmental conditions could have favored microbes. Its ultimate target is a mountain looming from the crater floor where mineral signatures of water have been spied.