It goes without saying that NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has delighted the world in recent weeks, and it’s not done yet. NASA has released the first color aerial photos of the surface of Mars taken by Ingenuity in its successful second test flight earlier this week. They are quite a sight, although I must admit the first thing I think of when I see them is, “Oh look, the Perseverance rover passed by here.”
In recent days, NASA published three aerial photos taken by Ingenuity. These aren’t the first photos taken by the rover. It has previously sent back images of its shadows taken with its downward-facing navigation camera. And let’s not forget its watchful and proud surrogate parent, the Perseverance rover, which snaps magnificent photos of the helicopter in action. However, this latest set of images is special because they’re the first color photos of Mars taken by an aerial vehicle while it’s in the air.
This is the first color image taken by Ingenuity, which is equipped with a high-resolution color camera that contains a 4208 x 3120-pixel sensor, on its April 22 test flight. According to NASA, Ingenuity was 17 feet (5.2 meters) above the surface. It was also moving its field of view upward as it prepared to move sideways for its 51.9-second flight.
“The image, as well as the inset showing a closeup of a portion of the tracks [of] the Perseverance Mars rover and Mars surface features, demonstrates the utility of scouting Martian terrain from an aerial perspective,” NASA explained in the photo’s description.
Speaking of Perseverance, you can check out the six-wheeled rover’s tracks in the winding parallel discolorations on the surface. Apparently, Perseverance itself isn’t too far away, but rather top center and unfortunately out of frame.
“Wright Brothers Field,” which is what NASA has named Ingenuity’s official launch zone, is in the vicinity of the helicopter’s shadow at the bottom center, the space agency said, and its point of takeoff is just below the image. Meanwhile, the black objects on the sides of the photo are Ingenuity’s landing pads. And in case this photo couldn’t get any better, you can see a small part of the horizon on the upper left and right corners.
Besides stating that this photo was also taken at an altitude of 17 feet (5.2 meters), NASA didn’t have much to say. Nonetheless, the space agency noted that you could see tracks made by Perseverance here as well.
NASA was short on words for this photo, too, but helpfully reminded us that Perseverance’s tracks can be seen in this case if you’re looking. (I was). I see the tracks at the bottom of the photo, but the rest of the picture is a lot more captivating to me. Oh, the mystery of the Martian surface!
In a news update published on Sunday after Ingenuity’s third successful test flight, NASA stated that the helicopter team had instructed Ingenuity to take more photos, including from its color camera. The space agency affirmed that taking additional photos will provide insights that could be used by future aerial missions. Ingenuity is expected to carry out its fourth test flight in the upcoming days.