The Nasa Curiosity rover has taken a break from alien-hunting and snapped a lovely selfie on the surface of Mars.
The picture was taken to celebrate a big moment: the first time the robot has conducted a chemical experiment in the clay-rich Glen Etive crater.
Two small drill holes can be seen to the left of the rover where scientists hope to find the remains of bacterial life which died over millions of years ago.
The photo is stitched together from a series of 57 taken from Curiosity’s robotic arm earlier this month.
NASA scientists have been waiting seven years to find just the right place for the rover to conduct ‘wet chemistry’ experiments in the portable lab in its belly.
SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, US, said: ‘We’ve been eager to find an area that would be compelling enough to do wet chemistry.
‘Now that we’re in the clay-bearing unit, we’ve finally got it.’
It is the second time the Curiosity has conducted an experiment involving liquid chemicals after scientists were forced to use its limited supplies when its drill malfunctioned in December 2016.
Curiosity landed on the Red Planet in 2012, and the Glen Etive is said to be a ‘strategic location’ that will reveal more about how the clay-bearing unit formed.
They built upon the valuable dress rehearsal at Ogunquit Beach in Maine, Connecticut in the US to make adjustments that improved the recent experiment.
The results will be known next year. Mr Mahaffy added: ‘SAM’s data is extremely complex and takes time to interpret. But we’re all eager to see what we can learn from this new location, Glen Etive.’
About 984 feet (300 meters) behind the rover is Vera Rubin Ridge, which Curiosity departed nearly a year ago.
Beyond the ridge, you can see the floor of Gale Crater and the crater’s northern rim. Curiosity has been ascending Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall mountain inside the crater.
Clay-based rocks are good at preserving chemical compounds, which break down over time when bombarded by radiation from space and the Sun.
The science team is intrigued to see if any organic compounds – the building blocks of life – have been preserved in the rocks at Glen Etive.
Understanding how this area formed will give them a better idea of how the Martian climate was changing billions of years ago and hopefully provides clues about whether the Red Planet ever supported life.