NASA’s Curiosity rover recently captured some beautiful new photographs of the vacant Martian environment, including a haunting new view of the Martian horizon from its vantage point in the Gale Crater.
The shot captured on November 1 is one of the many photos posted to NASA’s public feed of images from the rover. Some of the photographs are more eye-catching than others, like a striking rock formation or a shot of Curiosity’s own shadow, while others show close-ups of rocks and sediment. The Gale Crater, the subject of Curiosity’s eerie landscape photograph, is about 100 miles wide from the rover’s vantage point on the Central Butte, a sloping rocky area the rover is currently exploring.
These pictures aren’t just for show — they’re also part of Curiosity’s mission to help scientists learn about Mars. The area is geologically interesting because scientists think Gale Crater was covered with lakes and rivers of liquid water around three billion years ago, reports Vice’s Becky Ferreira. That means it’s the perfect spot for Curiosity to dig around for hints of microbial life.
Right now, Curiosity is sending back information about the chemical composition of the different kinds of rocks and the environmental conditions in the area, reports CNN’s Scottie Andrew.
If Curiosity’s pictures look lonely that’s because they are—it has been the only roving robot on Mars since Opportunity powered down earlier this year. NASA lost contact with Opportunity during a Martian dust storm, and the space administration declared the rover’s mission over this year in February after 15 years on the Red Planet.
Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, isn’t the only way scientists are learning about Mars from its surface, however. NASA’s stationary lander, InSight, is sending back information from about 400 miles away from Gale Crater, reports Vice.
And Curiosity will likely have some company pretty soon. NASA’s 2020 Mars rover is set to land on the planet in 2021, and it’s based on Curiosity’s design. The NASA rovers will also have some foreign companions as rovers from both China’s and Russia’s space programs are also set to land on Mars the same year.
But for now, lonely Curiosity is focused on learning as much as possible about the Gale Crater area. Curiosity is scheduled to drive down the other side of the Central Butte shortly, once it’s done with its observations in its current area, writes Kristen Bennett, a Planetary Geologist at the United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center, in a blog post. From there, it will take pictures of the butte from the other side.
“We expect to continue having amazing views of Central Butte at our next stop,” says Bennett.