Skip to main content

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.

Related Videos
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.

Editors' Recommendations

It’s been 2 years since the Perseverance rover landed on Mars
This image of the floor of Jezero Crater was taken by one of the Navcam imagers aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on Feb. 5, the 698th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

Today marks the second anniversary since the rover Perseverance landed on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021. The nail-biting descent and landing process was followed around the world, and was particularly memorable because of the spectacular video taken from both the rover and its descent stage showing the touchdown onto the red planet.

In the two Earth years since Perseverance arrived on Mars, it has collected samples of rock and built a sample depot, deployed the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, created oxygen from the carbon dioxide atmosphere, recorded the sounds of Mars for the first time, trundled along the floor of the Jezero crater and made its way toward the site of an ancient river delta, and taken some stunning images.

Read more
Perseverance Mars rover shares detailed panorama of sample depot
The site of Perseverance's sample depot.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has been busy creating what the space agency recently said was “humanity’s first sample depot on another planet.”

The depot, which is essentially a flat patch of land, contains 10 titanium tubes holding samples of martian rock and dust collected by NASA’s rover in the two years since it landed on the red planet.

Read more
Ingenuity helicopter helps researchers learn about dust on Mars
The Ingenuity helicopter is pictured on the surface of Mars.

One of the big challenges of Mars exploration is something very small: dust. Fine dust covers much of the martian surface, and high winds and low gravity mean the dust is easily whipped up off the surface, covering solar panels and gumming up components. The Ingenuity helicopter has had its own problems with dust on its solar panels, limiting the amount of power it could draw from the sun.

Now, researchers have used data from Ingenuity to understand more about how dust moves in the martian air, learning about the dynamics of dust, which could help future missions deal with this ongoing problem.

Read more