NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
A filtered photo from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the Martian moon Phobos passing across the left edge of the sun. The raw photo has been enlarged to twice its original size.
NASA's Curiosity rover has caught sight of its first solar eclipse from the surface of Mars — a slight bite taken out of the sun by the Martian moon Phobos, as seen from the rover's vantage point in Gale Crater on Thursday.
Curiosity's Mastcam imaging system captured this image of the partial mini-eclipse through a neutral density filter that reduced the sunlight to a thousandth of its natural intensity. After all, you wouldn't want Curiosity to blow out its camera on Mars, any more than you would want to damage your own eyes by staring at the sun without eclipse-viewing glasses. The bright spots in the darkness surrounding the sun may look like stars, but Keri Bean, a member of Curiosity's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told me they're just "hot pixels" — flaws in the raw image data.
The rover was programmed to take hundreds of high-resolution images during the transit on Sol 37 of the mission, and eventually they could be transmitted and assembled into Curiosity's first eclipse movie. But that may take a while, due to the limited data-transmission bandwidth and the $2.5 billion mission's other priorities. Meanwhile, Curiosity has two more opportunities over the next couple of days to watch solar transits by Phobos and Mars' smaller moon, Deimos.
More about Martian moons and eclipses:
- Watch an eclipse and a sunset on Mars
- Deimos passes over sun while rover watches
- Martian moons seen together for first time
- Phobos takes the spotlight
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.