This HiRISE image shows a 10km crater on the northern polar plains of Mars, called Heimdal. This isn’t the point though. The bright spot highlighted is the Phoenix lander descending to the surface. This incredible picture was captured on May 25th by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The orbiter was 760 kilometers away from Phoenix when picture was taken.
This has to be one of the most incredible images taken in 2008. It says so much about what is going on in space exploration at the moment. If Phoenix finds what it is looking for, namely evidence of water ice and habitability, then this image will become truly iconic.
This image also came in just minutes after the event took place and spread virally throughout the internet within hours. The world is interested in what is happening on Mars. As a race, we seem to be captivated by our neighbouring planet. It seems to have taken control of our ambitions. Manned missions and more probes will cement this obsession in the coming decade(s).
To be able to image one craft from another proves that we have created reliable, durable methods for exploring other worlds. The longevity of NASA’s martian rovers and the new, larger version of this mission heading to Mars next year (Mars Science Laboratory) have created a tangible, real perspective on the planet. It no longer seems so alien. Of course it is when people set foot there that we will feel as if we are truly capable of great things again.
It may well be that what we are discovering on Mars is something we are in short supply of at the moment here on Earth: optimism for the future.