Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA’s Mars rover marvels at ‘big chunky weirdo’
The Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie on Sept. 10, 2021 — sol 198 of the mission – in Jezero Crater after coring into a rock called ‘Rochette.’ Rock core samples from the floor of the crater will be brought back to Earth and analyzed to characterize the planet’s geology and past climate.

NASA’s Perseverance rover has been busy exploring Mars since landing there in spectacular fashion in February 2021.

The car-sized vehicle is equipped with a bunch of science tools and cameras to help it in its quest to find evidence of ancient microbial life on the distant planet. It’s also gathering together samples of Martian rock and soil for return to Earth in the ambitious Mars Sample Return mission. Additionally, the current mission offers an opportunity to test robotic technology that could be further developed for the first crewed mission to Mars.

Read more
NASA restores contact with Mars helicopter after nine weeks of silence
Mars helicopter

The last time NASA had contact with Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter was flying in the air on April 26.

Ten weeks on, the Mars team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California has announced that it’s restored contact with the aircraft, and everything appears to be in order.

Read more
See seasonal changes on Mars in two stunning images from MAVEN
mars maven ultraviolet seasons orbit16863 apo ladfit localff png

The planets in our solar system experience seasons because of the way that they are tilted in their orbits, so one hemisphere is facing the sun more often at some times of year than others. However, there's another factor which also affects weather and conditions on some planets, which is their position in their orbit around the sun. Earth has a relatively circular orbit, so the differences caused by it being slightly closer or further from the sun at different points are minimal. But Mars's orbit is much more eccentric or oval-shaped than Earth's, meaning conditions differ based on when the planet is closer to the sun.

That effect is illustrated in two images of Mars recently released by NASA, which show the planet at its closest and furthest point from the sun. Taken by a Mars orbiter called MAVEN, or Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, the images were taken six months apart in July 2022 and January 2023 respectively, showing how the environment of the planet changes with both season and the planet's orbit.

Read more