A Nasa spaceprobe circling Mars has looked back to capture an astonishing photo of the Earth and Moon together. Our world appears as a blue planet with clouds clearly visible over the west coast of South America.
Both look beautiful but vulnerable as they hang in the vast, empty blackness of space.
The picture, taken by the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet, was released by Nasa along with a stunning shot capturing the first avalanche ever witnessed on Mars.
It shows clouds of ice, rock and dust billowing from the landslide down a towering slope near the Red Planet’s north pole.
The pictures were snapped from the HiRise camera aboard a robotic probe called Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Space scientists are excited because it is a clear demonstration that Mars is active geologically, just like the Earth.
The picture of an avalanche in progress was captured while the Nasa team were actually checking for seasonal changes in an area of sand dunes covered with frost. Ingrid Daubar Spitale of the University of Arizona, spotted the dramatic event as she checked through hundreds of photos showing martian features as small as an office desk.
Nasa had previously taken before and after images revealing slides of debris on a crater wall – something they first mistook for evidence of water.
Ingrid said: “It really surprised me. It’s great to see something so dynamic on Mars. A lot of what we see there hasn’t changed for millions of years.”
Swiss colleague Patrick Russell, of the University of Berne, said: “We don’t know what set off these landslides. We plan to take more images of the site through the changing martian seasons to see if this kind of avalanche happens all year or is restricted to early spring.”
The scientists will also watch the avalanche debris for any changes. They suspect that it is mostly ice which can be expected to evaporate as spring arrives on that region of Mars.
Last year, dramatic shots of the Earth from space were also sent back from the Rosetta probe as it flew by, gathering speed, on its journey to a comet.
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