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See the passing of a day on Mars with the Curiosity rover

While many of us are on vacation this week between Christmas and New Year, the Curiosity rover on Mars is getting back to work after taking time off last month. In November, NASA’s Mars missions paused for two weeks during an event called the Mars solar conjunction, when the sun is directly between Earth and Mars.

That means that any communications signals passing between the two planets would have to pass close to the harsh solar environment, where they would likely be degraded. To avoid any risk of garbled communications sending dangerous signals to the rovers, NASA stopped sending commands to both its Curiosity and Perseverance rovers until the solar conjunction passed.

Curiosity 12-hour View of Mars (Front Hazcam)

During this time, the rovers were unusually inactive. The rovers typically have as much science and exploration packed into their schedules as possible, but for a time there, the Curiosity rover was just hanging out on the Martian surface. To make the most of even this opportunity, the rover captured the view around it using its forward and rear cameras, taking regular images which, when strung together, show the progression of a Martian day.

The two cameras are called Hazcams, or Hazard-Avoidance Cameras, and as the name suggests, they are primarily used for navigation to help the rover avoid dangerous obstacles like sharp rocks or steep slopes. So, they only operate in black and white and are relatively low definition. All the same, seeing the string of 25 images taken between 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. local time on November 8 gives you the soothing feeling of spending a day hanging out on Mars with Curiosity.

You can see the shifting of the rover’s shadow throughout the day, and in the very last frame of the front camera video, there’s an effect that looks like snow — but this is just due to sensor noise from the long exposure of the image, not any weather phenomenon. There are another couple of interesting artifacts in the rear camera video, like in the middle when a black dot appears (caused by a cosmic ray hitting the sensor), or at the end when there’s what looks like a flash of light which is caused by the spacecraft’s power system.

With the Mars solar conjunction over and Curiosity now back in regular communications with Earth, the rover is back to work, taking images of regions called Crescent Meadow and Sawtooth Peak and looking for clouds and dust in the air.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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