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Mars Rover Curiosity Snaps First Ever Photo Of Asteroids From Red Planet

Update Date: Apr 25, 2014 03:46 PM EDT
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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has successfully captured the first image of asteroids as seen from the surface of the Mars. 

In the historic asteroid picture snapped by Curiosity, the two asteroids visible are Ceres and Vesta. These two are the largest and third largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These objects would be bright enough to be visible to a person with normal eyesight standing on the Red Planet, NASA officials wrote in an image description.

The SUV-sized Curiosity rover equips the imagining system on its head called Mastcam which snapped the picture on April 20 PDT. According to NASA officials, the rover was primarily taking portraits of Mars's two moons, Phobos and Deimos and the asteroids appeared in a 12-second exposure as faint streaks. 

"This imaging was part of an experiment checking the opacity of the atmosphere at night in Curiosity's location on Mars, where water-ice clouds and hazes develop during this season," camera team member Mark Lemmon, of Texas A&M University, said in a statement. "The two Martian moons were the main targets that night, but we chose a time when one of the moons was near Ceres and Vesta in the sky."

With a diameter of about 590 miles, Ceres is by far the largest object in the asteroid belt. On the other hand, Vesta measures 350 miles in diameter and ranks as the third largest object in the asteroid belt. 

In 2011 and 2012, NASA's Dawn mission had orbited Vesta and captured detailed images of the asteroid's lumpy, pockmarked surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to enter into orbit around Ceres next year.

Curiosity is the heart of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. The 1-ton, 6-wheeled robot landed on the Red Planet in August 2012 to look for evidence of Mars' warmer, wetter past. The rover is currently driving toward Mount Sharp, a mountain that rises 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the center of Gale Crater, wrote Space.com.  

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