NASA’s biggest and most-expensive robotic rover has blasted off from Cape Canaveral today on a voyage of discovery. The Mars Science Laboratory probe, nicknamed Curiosity, is the size of a SUV and is scheduled to arrive at the mineral-rich Martian ‘Gale Crater‘ next August. It aims to search the surface for clues about whether the planet has ever had a life-friendly environment.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope took this picture of Mars on June 26, 2001, when Mars was approximately 68 million kilometers (43 million miles) away from Earth — the closest Mars has ever been to Earth since 1988.
Hubble can see details as small as 16 kilometers (10 miles) across. The colors have been carefully balanced to give a realistic view of Mars’ hues as they might appear through a telescope.
Especially striking is the large amount of seasonal dust storm activity seen in this image.
One large storm system is churning high above the northern polar cap (top of image), and a smaller dust storm cloud can be seen nearby. Another large dust storm is spilling out of the giant Hellas impact basin in the Southern Hemisphere (lower right).
This conceptual drawing of the Mars Science Laboratory (better known as “Curiosity”) is about the size of a SUV and has a price tag of about 2.5 billion USD.