I look at a lot of pictures of Mars. A lot. I was just scrolling through some recent raw images sent back by NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and I came across this view. I stopped. I stared. I let my mind collapse into a windblown reverie on dust, planetary exploration and the sheer magical audaciousness of sending robots to other planets.
Curiosity’s right navigation camera snapped this vista on Friday from a location called Central Butte inside Gale Crater. The fascinating rock formations of the butte are in the foreground. Rover scientists are interested in the geology of this area.
At first glance, it almost looks like the rover is seeing a weird fog or cloud bank in the distance. To get some perspective on Curiosity’s viewpoint, you should know the meteor-created Gale Crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter. It has a towering mountain in the middle (Mount Sharp) and walls that rise up all around the crater’s edge.
Mars can be cruel. Sometimes ittakes our beloved machines away from us. Sometimes itfoils our best-laid plans. And sometimes it rewards us with otherworldly beauty that is all the more striking for both its alienness and its familiarity.
That’s why I’m spending a Saturday morning staring at this Martian landscape. This could be a winter day somewhere in a New Mexico desert.
I look at a lot of pictures of Mars and this one is worth more than a glance. Let it be a meditation.