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NASA CubeSat photo shows Mars from 8 million miles away and it’s tiny



mars cubesat one satellite insight nasa jpl caltech
An engineer tests the
solar arrays of NASA’s Mars Cube One satellite, or


  • NASA’s InSight Mars lander launched
    on May 5 and will reach the red planet on November 26.
  • But two small satellites, collectively called
    Mars Cube One
    , are also nearing the world.
  • One of these backpack-size “CubeSat” spacecraft
    recently took a photo of Mars from 8 million miles away.
  • Mars glows bright red-orange in the picture, but the
    world also looks incredibly small — and even conquerable.

Mars is a sizable planet about nine times the mass of our moon.
The latest scientific research also suggests Mars, despite
looking like a giant desert, may harbor enough subsurface water
and warmth to
support microbial life

But against the deep, dark backdrop of space, the rusty-red world
looks as
as Earth.

NASA recently underscored this stark reality with a newly released image taken by a tiny
satellite that’s closing in on Mars.

The picture was taken from about 8 million miles away by one of
two backpack-size CubeSats, collectively known as Mars Cube One,
or MarCO.

mars isro issdc emily lakdawalla ccbyndsa3
photo illustration of the red planet using imagery taken by the
Mars Orbiter Mission.

Lakdawalla (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

The two satellites — MarCO-A and MarCO-B, nicknamed by their
creators “EVE” and “Wall-E,” respectively — launched on May 5.
They hitched a ride with NASA’s much-larger, car-size InSight
, which is scheduled to land on Mars on November 26.

The MarCO satellites are officially the smallest spacecraft ever
flown past the moon. They’re also a crucial test for NASA to see
how small it can shrink its spacecraft, and how far it can send
them into the solar system.

The tinier a deep-space satellite can be, the more of them the
space agency can afford to build and launch, as well as faster
and more often (since
powerful rockets
are still
very expensive

Traveling at a speed of about 6,200 mph, the two CubeSats have
spent six months and logged some 248 million miles “chasing” Mars
as the planet orbits the sun. NASA expects them both to slip into
orbit as InSight lands, helping relay unprecedented data about
the robot’s landing back to Earth in (relative) real-time.

Until then, MarCO’s systems are being intermittently tested. On
October 2, MarCO-B swung Mars into view during camera, rotation,
and communications test and snapped the photo below.

planet mars cube one nasa PIA22742
of NASA’s twin MarCO spacecraft took this image of Mars on
October 2, 2018 — the first time a CubeSat, a kind of low-cost,
briefcase-sized spacecraft — has done so.


“We’ve been waiting six months to get to Mars,” Cody Colley, who
manages the MarCO mission for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
said in a press release. “The cruise phase of
the mission is always difficult, so you take all the small wins
when they come. Finally seeing the planet is definitely a big win
for the team.”

The picture was taken from 8 million miles away — cosmically
close, since the red planet is an average of 140 million miles
from Earth.

Yet Mars still looks like an infinitesimal red dot in the image.
(The objects on the periphery are parts of the spacecraft.)

Previously, the MarCO team honored Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”
image by using MarCO-B to
photograph Earth from 621,371 miles away
. Earth looked
similarly feeble in that image.

On the flipside, the image shows Mars is not an infinite plane

like the rest of the universe

To someone like Elon
, who is trying to use his rocket company, SpaceX, to
a giant reusable spaceship
capable of reaching the red
planet, the picture might make Mars look that much more

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