This picture - taken just after Curiosity started its third day on Mars - is perhaps my favorite of all. Indulge me for a moment...
This patch of ground looks mundane, doesn't it? If I showed you this picture with no prep, no comment, you wouldn't give it a second glance.
But that's the amazing part! Gale crater, Curiosity's new home, formed more than 3 billion years ago
when an asteroid slammed into Mars at tremendous speed. The asteroid itself was probably substantially larger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago here on Earth. The rocks in this picture were created much later, broken up by slow erosive forces over eons of time.
At some later point water flowed here, picking up and sorting through the rocks and pebbles and sand, then far more recently the literally rusty dust ubiquitous on Mars - and which gives it its nickname of the Red Planet - blew over and stuck to their surfaces.
That last part sounds familiar to me. After all, I've seen similar rocks and sand in dry lake beds in Arizona, New Mexico, and my home state of Colorado, formed in the same way and also coated with red dust. At a glance they'd be hard to tell apart from the rocks seen here. But this is a picture of Mars!
A planet that has a vastly different history, geology, structure, and environment than our own warm, blue planet.
... or does it? The whole point here is to study Mars, discover its secrets, unravel its past. And the point of that
is, in no small part, to better understand our own world. How are they different, how are they the same? What does this tell us about home?
Looking at this picture we are seeing up close a place so far away it's merely a brilliant red dot to our eyes. But it's a planet
, with as rich and wonderful a history as our own. And we have reached out with our science and our wonder and our imagination, and we have touched the surface of this alien world so that we may better understand our own.
Being curious is the best thing we can do, and Curiosity shows that it is the best of us. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems