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Look at what a NASA Mars orbiter spotted from 180 miles away

It was already impressive when NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) managed to spot the Perseverance rover soon after it landed on the martian surface last year.

Now the orbiter’s powerful High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera has somehow picked out Perseverance’s plucky traveling companion, the Ingenuity helicopter.

Comprising little more than a small metal box and a set of four-foot-long blades, Ingenuity is tiny compared to the car-sized rover, and therefore much harder to spot from up high.

But in the recently released image below, we can just about make out the drone-like flying machine some 180 miles below the orbiter.

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter captured by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter seen from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Since reaching Mars in February 2021, and after taking its historic maiden flight two months later to become the first aircraft to achieve powered and controlled flight on another planet, Ingenuity has gone on to complete a further 22 flights, with more being lined up. To date, its longest single trip involved a flight of just over 631 meters, while its flight time record stands at 169.5 seconds.

More airborne missions are planned for Ingenuity as NASA uses the helicopter to assist Perseverance’s explorations while at the same time gathering data to help engineers develop a next-generation Mars drone.

Two hundred meters to the east of Ingenuity, Perseverance can be more easily identified in this HiRISE image.

NASA's Perseverance rover captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA’s Perseverance rover seen from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

According to NASA, Perseverance is shown on the fractured bedrock of what’s known as the Máaz Formation, a feature believed to be of igneous (volcanic) origin. “The primary science target is the deltaic deposit thought to have formed billions of years ago from sediment that an ancient river once carried, is still several kilometers to the north,” the agency said in a report on its website.

Perseverance is exploring the martian surface for evidence of ancient microbial life, and also gathering rock samples for return to Earth in a later mission. It’s also hoped that other discoveries made by the rover will help NASA to better plan for the first crewed mission to Mars, though no firm date has yet been set for that particular endeavor.

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Trevor Mogg
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