Sunset on Mars

By Phil Plait | November 15, 2010 3:22 pm

Wow.

I know, it may not look like much, but think about what you’re seeing: a sunset on another world. And those images were taken by a robotic probe that took years to design and build, months to travel the hundreds of millions of kilometers to get to Mars, a harrowing few minutes to descend on a breath of fire through the thin air to land on the surface, and then nearly seven years to travel the landscape long, long past its design specifications.

All that, plus all the amazing science, exploration, and discovery done by Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit… and yet, it’s sometimes the stark beauty of simple things like this that remind us that we have, at least by proxy, placed our feet on other worlds.

I know there are worries here on Earth. But when I see something like this, I remember that the good we do, the awe we feel, and the inspiration we can generate are mighty.


Tip of the pancam to Emily Lakdawalla on Twitter.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: Mars, Opportunity, sunset

Comments (42)

  1. CaptTu

    So… the sun revolves around Mars just like it does the Earth…? Neat.

  2. With all the time and money they spent on that probe, they couldn’t splurge for a color camera? Come on, now.

  3. Evan Harper

    Striking how flat that horizon is. Is Martian terrain really that boring generally, or is it just that we tend to aim our landers at the flattest parts to ensure they get down safely?

  4. Minos

    Is that spot to the right of the Sun an optical artifact or another planet? The disc seemed pretty large.

  5. That is just astonishing. It’s things like this that make me so glad I live in the future.

    Think you don’t live in the future?

    Right now, there are human boot-prints on the surface of the moon, a permanently manned space station in orbit, safe and plentiful vaccines to protect us from many common diseases, and you just watched a robot’s perspective of the sunset from the surface of Mars. George Jetson wishes he had it so good.

  6. kristy

    I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV. HA

    I’m thinking the disk you see is a reflective thingie within the lenses. Same kind of effect I can get by the angle of my cam to the sun to get that multi circle optical effect for photos I take.

    OR it’s a planet we haven’t catalogued that is in orbit with the earth but we can’t see it because the sun blocks our view. What was the name of that movie? (Just kidding you, Minos.)

  7. This is awesome. I wish one day I will be able to see Moon and Earth or Sun from another planet.

  8. andy

    Pity it is not in colour, Mars has very pretty blue sunsets.

  9. HvP

    Mike Vargas,

    I know you’re trying to be funny, but I had a real “a-ha!” moment when it was explained (on this very blog, I believe) why space probe images are in black-and-white.

    Digital sensors are inherently luminance only devices (light or dark, shades of gray). To get color you have to cover each pixel with a filter to make up a red, green, blue grid. With color photography it takes three pixels to do the job of one.

    If you take the pictures in greyscale then you can use all of those pixels to collect three times as much luminance data without having to use a larger sensor. It makes sense, especially when most of the data that is being gathered by these probes have nothing to do with the colors that humans are used to seeing.

  10. Dali Parton

    andy says: Pity it is not in colour, Mars has very pretty blue sunsets.

    Blue sunsets?

  11. Dave

    I used to marvel at the photographs ‘from another world’. Seeing a sunset on Mars was most cool.

  12. @3. Evan: The area where Opportunity is right now is pretty flat and “boring”. Mostly very low dunes, some exposed flat rock outcrops and the occasional sand-filled crater. But considering it’s another planet that humans have still only set foot on in their sci-fi dreams, I think it’s pretty far from boring regardless of the terrain!

    @7. Itchy Bites: if robots count, we do have images of Earth from other planets!
    Earth from Mars
    Earth from Mercury
    And then there’s the big daddy of way-out images….the famous “Pale Blue Dot” series taken from beyond the orbit of Pluto by Voyager 1……whoa.

    We DO live in the future!

  13. There’s also a shot of Earth from Saturn…I couldn’t find the link in time to get it in the last comment. :)

  14. truthspeaker

    <blockquote.The Gear Head Skeptic Says:
    November 15th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    That is just astonishing. It’s things like this that make me so glad I live in the future.

    Think you don’t live in the future?

    Right now, there are human boot-prints on the surface of the moon, a permanently manned space station in orbit, safe and plentiful vaccines to protect us from many common diseases, and you just watched a robot’s perspective of the sunset from the surface of Mars.</blo

    Don't forget that many of us carry small hand-held communicators with which we can talk to people anywhere in the world. And if you're lost, you can determine your location by contacting spacecraft orbiting the planet, often on the same device.

  15. Elliott

    C’mon. How do we know that’s really Mars? Could be Venus for all we know.

  16. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat video. :-)

    Looks like there’s at least one colour Martian sunset /sunrise one on Youtube already – will link separately in a minute or so.

    … when I see something like this, I remember that the good we do, the awe we feel, and the inspiration we can generate are mighty.

    Hear! Hear! :-)

    For all our human flaws, for all the bad stuff that people can do & think, things like this and, as (#14.) truthspeaker notes things like this that we can do *today*, are just amazingly astounding and wonder-filling and show how much progress we’ve made.

    Numinious as Carl Sagan might say. :-)

  17. Messier Tidy Upper

    Colour martian sunsets on youtube here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raSgcfl7IxM&feature=related

    & another one here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBzArPWL6XY&NR=1

    Just don’t blink or you’ll miss that one. ;-)

    Wonder if they ever get a green flash or its equivalent on Mars?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_flash

    There are a few others there too. :-)

  18. Aaron

    I got your sunset on another world right here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hcuLVOF__I

  19. Navneeth

    I find it surprising, given the rate at which the events take place in the “video,” that sky does not seem to darken much.

  20. JB of Brisbane

    Cue the music from the scene in Star Wars were Luke S watches the double sunset on Tattooine.

  21. bassmanpete

    GHS @5 What you say is so true. I was born in 1944 and my older brother introduced me to science fiction at an early age. Although we (in the sense of manned missions) aren’t traveling around the solar system or the galaxy as depicted in many of the sf stories I read in the ’50s, in many ways the world we live in today is way beyond what I imagined all those years ago.

  22. Wouter Lievens

    HvP: your explanation is mostly correct, but I want to nitpick: most color sensors use a Bayer filter, which uses 1 red, 1 blue and 2 green filters per four pixels. So essentially you decrease your resolution by 4, not by 3.

  23. Ian

    That’s incredible. Quite eerie when the Sun reaches the horizon and then below, you see the horizon quite clearly and it looks like it might be on Earth… except there’s no trees, bulidings, or NOTHING on the horizon. It looks spooky.

  24. Pepijn

    At the end there you can clearly see the Sun glinting off the glass dome of a Martian city.

  25. DrFlimmer

    It’s true. We forget far too often to remember where we are.

    I am currently in a completely different world compared to what I am used to. I have the great opportunity to be in Namibia at the H.E.S.S.-telescope at the moment. Four weeks have gone by already, only one more to go. But somehow, I have the odd feeling, that I haven’t appreciated where I really am. Literally, on the other side of the world. Different type of vegetation, different (but not less tasty ;) ) animals, the most beautiful night sky, humidity on low rates I, as a central European, have never seen or felt before. It is truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done — but somehow, I have not really thought about it, yet.

    I should do it now!

    Greetings from the other side of the planet!

  26. QuietDesperation

    I know there are worries here on Earth

    Yeah, one or two.

  27. “I remember that the good we do, the awe we feel, and the inspiration we can generate are mighty.”

    This. Absolutely this.

  28. One or two orders of magnitude greater than any of us would like, I’m sure.

    But things like this serve to remind us once in a while of the amazing things we as a species are capable of achieving, and also remind us that the future holds wonders we can’t even imagine right now. If we keep that faith in ourselves, and our capacity to do the impossible, we will continue to resolve those Earth-bound worries one by one over time.

    Just like we have always done.

  29. Dali Parton (10):

    andy says: Pity it is not in colour, Mars has very pretty blue sunsets.

    Blue sunsets?

    Having had a Martian sunset as my desktop wallpaper for what seems like several years now, I can attest that Martian sunsets are, in fact, blue.

    Now, let me find that image online again…

    http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_347.html

  30. Spike Redding

    6 kristy, it was “Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun”, appropriately enough. That was the American release title of the film called “Doppelganger” in UK. Starred Herbert Lom.

  31. PsychoDad

    ” Mars has very pretty blue sunsets.. ….Blue sunsets?”

    Any color you like, just tell the studio what color you prefer.

    “I know, it may not look like much, but think about what you’re seeing: a sunset on another world soundstage.”

    Gullible cretins.

  32. rob

    sailors on mars must have a hard time predicting the weather:

    gray sky at night, sailor’s delight.
    gray sky in morning, sailor’s warning

  33. HvP

    Wouter Lievens, thanks for the info.

    It’s also significant that our space agencies are usually able to expose a relatively static scene for different shots at different wavelengths and then recombine them. This makes the reduction in image resolution for individual color pictures simply useless most of the time.

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