NASA has pulled an old Mars image from its archives, bringing it to the attention of a new generation of space enthusiasts. The image was captured by one of the space agency’s earlier Martian rovers, one that operated for less than three months before retiring in the late 1990s. What makes this particular image so unique? It reveals ‘twin peaks’ that, NASA only realized in retrospect, had been hiding in plain sight for two decades.
Unless you’re familiar with NASA history, you probably haven’t heard about the Pathfinder mission and its related tiny Martian rover called Sojourner. The vehicle was deployed on Mars in the late ’90s, where it was supposed to spend seven days exploring the Red Planet. The mission ended up lasting much longer at 83 days.
The space agency had intended its Pathfinder mission as a demonstration of its ability to efficiently and economically send a lander to Mars and deploy a rover that could operate on the planet — something it has done many times since, with considerably long-lasting results.
During its time, the Pathfinder mission sent back 2.3 billion bits of data, according to NASA, including thousands of images — 550 of which were captured by the Sojourner rover. NASA has dug up one of those images and posted it as its Image of the Day, highlighting two landscape features visible in the background — a pair of hills that look like twin peaks in the distance.
The image is of note because it brought these two peaks to NASA’s attention — and once it knew they were there, it scanned back through older data from the Viking program launched in 1975, only to discover that it had gathered data on the landscape features 20 years before Sojourner took a picture of them. The full-resolution version of this image is available to download from NASA’s website.