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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Fantasy on a Martian Theme

By Phil Plait

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to stand on the surface of Mars, another world, peering out over an alien landscape. In my mind, my limited knowledge of the scientific reality of such a view wars with the more vibrant images of imagination, producing a compromise that is somehow better than both.

When I close my eyes, and try really hard, it looks something like this:

That magnificent vista is a mosaic of images taken by the Curiosity rover taken on Sol 952—the 952nd Martian day of Curiosity’s visit to the planet—as it traversed the Pahrump Hills, an outcrop near the base of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), the central peak in Gale Crater, where the rover landed in 2012. This area shows signs of sedimentary deposits.

The mosaic was created by Stuart Atkinson, an amateur astronomer and space enthusiast, using images from the Midnight Planets website. He used various pieces of software to stitch them together, then fiddled with the color and saturation “very unscientifically,” as he put it, to make him think, “Oh yes, that's it ... that's Mars.”

In other words, this isn’t the view you’d have if you stood there … but it’s very much the view I see in my mind when I picture the surface of the Red Planet. Scientific, no, but artistic, lush, and gorgeous?

Very much yes.

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