Curiosity, the NASA rover on the surface of Mars, has taken a spectacular image of giant asteroids, as seen from the red planet. This is the first time in history that one of these bodies has been photographed by a camera on the surface of Mars.
The interplanetary rover landed on the red planet in August 2012, searching for evidence of ancient climate on the alien world. The spacecraft was at the center of the Mars Science Laboratory, a $2.5 billion program managed by NASA.
Ceres is no normal asteroid - at 590 miles in diameter, it is large enough to qualify as a dwarf planet. Vesta is 350 miles across, ranking it as the third-largest member of the asteroid belt. Each object orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter.
In addition to the giant asteroids, the new image also includes Deimos, one of a pair of Martian moons.
"The image was taken after nightfall on the 606th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 20, 2014, PDT)" NASA officials wrote in a press release announcing the new image.
Curiosity snapped another image of the other moon - Phobos - later that night, along with Saturn and Jupiter. That satellite is the larger member of the pair.
Images of asteroids from the surface of the red planet were recorded by the Mastcam aboard the Martian rover. This camera is able to obtain images and high-definition video from its arm above the body of the vehicle.
"This imaging was part of an experiment checking the opacity of the atmosphere at night in Curiosity's location on Mars, where water-ice clouds and hazes develop during this season. The two Martian moons were the main targets that night, but we chose a time when one of the moons was near Ceres and Vesta in the sky," Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University said.
Images released by NASA are composites of multiple exposures, up to 12 seconds long. This creates streaking seen in images of the asteroids, and three stars. If a person with normal eyesight were standing at the same location as Curiosity, they would be able to see the objects with their naked eyes, according to NASA.
Curiosity is currently at "the Kimberley," a geologically-interesting location within the Gale Crater. There, the roving laboratory will drill into the Martian surface, and analyze the material.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft visited Vesta during 2011 and 2012, and is currently headed to Ceres. It is expected to become the first spacecraft to make close-up observations of that dwarf planet in 2016.