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See the Ingenuity helicopter’s stunning image of a Martian sunset

The tiny helicopter Ingenuity is continuing to explore Mars, gearing up for its 47th flight. That’s a pretty stunning achievement, considering it was originally designed to perform just five flights and has had to deal with changing seasonal conditions including colder temperatures and dropping atmospheric pressure.

Despite the inhospitable environment, the helicopter continues to operate and recently made its longest flight in almost a year. And now, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has shared an image taken by Ingenuity during its 45th flight which shows an otherworldly sunset, as the sun slinks over the Martian horizon.

Image of a Martian sunset acquired by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image using its high-resolution color camera. This camera is mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed approximately 22 degrees below the horizon. This image was acquired on February 22, 2023 (Sol 714 of the Perseverance rover mission). NASA/JPL-Caltech

The image was taken on February 22, when Ingenuity was performing another long flight, traveling over 1,600 feet from a location named Airfield Zeta to one called Airfield Eta. Over of journey of 145 seconds, the helicopter rose to a maximum altitude of nearly 40 feet and hit a high maximum groundspeed of over 13 miles per hour.

During its journey, it took the image using its high-resolution color camera, which typically takes images of below the horizon. That’s because it is angled to 22 degrees below the horizon to focus on the ground, where most of the targets it is useful to study (like rocks or regolith formations) are located. However, the helicopter does sway somewhat while in flight, so on odd occasions the camera will be tilted upward to view the sky, and in this case, it managed to snap the sun as well.

NASA shared the image while announcing that Ingenuity is gearing up for yet another flight, this one flight 47. (Flight 46 took place on February 25 and saw Ingenuity cover another 1,400 feet.)

“Onward and upward, Ingenuity!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote on Twitter. “The #MarsHelicopter will attempt Flight 47 no earlier than March 9. It is expected to fly 1,411 feet (430 meters) southwest to reposition itself and image science targets along the way.”

The announcement was made on March 9, but there’s no update yet on whether Flight 47 has happened yet. The plan is for the helicopter to cover a further 1,400 feet in around 140 seconds of flight, heading southwest. And Ingenuity will be snapping images of more science targets along the way.

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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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