Nasa’s Mars rover captured a partial eclipse of the Sun

·2 min read

When Phobos, the lumpy, potato-shaped Martian moon passed in front of the Sun as seen from the Red Planet on 2 April, Nasa’s Perseverance rover was there to witness the resulting eclipse.

In a video posted to Nasa’s Youtube channel and on the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) website, the dark shape of Phobos can be seen passing in front of the orange disk of the Sun in just under a minute.

At more than six miles in diameter, Phobos neither completely blocks out the Sun like a total eclipse seen from Earth, nor takes very long to transit the Sun’s face.

Capturing Solar eclipses by the two Martian moons Phobos and Deimos is nothing new — Nasa rovers Spirit and Opportunity both took time lapse photos of Phobos passing in front of the Sun back in 2004.

But the new video and images taken by Perseverance capture a Martian solar eclipse with unprecedented focus and resolution thanks to new camera technology on what is Nasa’s newest Mars rover.

The 2 April eclipse was imaged using the twin Mastcam-Z cameras mounted on Perseverance’s 2-metre-tall mast. The Mastcam-Z cameras have allowed the rover to zoom in on distant objects and take high quality, 3D images and video of the Martian surface. Combined with a special solar filter, the cameras have now provided scientists with incredible details of a solar eclipse on Mars.

“You can see details in the shape of Phobos’ shadow, like ridges and bumps on the moon’s landscape,” Mark Lemmon, a planetary astronomer with the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who helped arrange the Phobos observations, said in a statement. “You can also see sunspots. And it’s cool that you can see this eclipse exactly as the rover saw it from Mars.”

Perseverance landed on Mars in February 2021, and has spent the past year and change exploring the Jezero Crater along with Ingenuity, Nasa’s award winning Mars helicopter.

Perseverance has also cached Martian soil samples that Nasa hopes to return to earth for further study in the late 2020s and early 2030s.

In the meantime, Perseverance will continue sending back images of the Red Planet that delight even the scientists and engineers that built and operate the robot.

“I knew it was going to be good,” Rachel Howson, one of the Mastcam-Z team camera operators said of the Perseverance images’ quality in a statement, “but I didn’t expect it to be this amazing.”