As the Mars rover Curiosity explores Mars, it is leaving its own mark on the planet. Its discarded parachute is still flapping around on the surface, like some kind of interplanetary signal flag heralding “we were here.”
When Curiosity parachuted toward the surface of the Red Planet last summer, it jettisoned its chute and flew with its sky crane to a daring airdrop landing. Within a couple days, NASA’s Mars orbiters sent home pictures of the rover on the chute, and photos showing scars left behind by the rocket thrusters.
Now we get this image, a series of seven shots taken with the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing Curiosity’s parachute flapping around in the Martian wind.
It’s not as fast as this gif makes it seem–these images are actually a sequence taken between Aug. 12, 2012, the rover’s first week on Mars, and Jan. 13.
Seeing it move serves as a reminder that Mars is an ever-changing place, with inhospitable weather and winds that can thwart even the best-planned missions. Curiosity recently found that it could have been hospitable long ago, though–at least for microbial life forms. Do you think humans will ever visit and pick up this parachute?