We’ve seen images of Saturn from Cassini that also captured the Earth, but this is the first time that NASA has made the deliberate effort to take such a photo. Not to mention that this is the first time we’ve been given advanced notice of the pic here on Earth.

In fact, JPL even invited us all to “Say cheese!” for the image. This image also captures the moon as well as the Earth.

As often as we get images from space these days, it might be easy for some to get jaded by the whole affair. But even in the span of my short lifetime, we have gone from Saturn being a remote and unreachable object of scientific inquiry to a neighbor. That is not an inconsequential change.

See more images here

Fresh analysis of spectrometric data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that a crater named for NASA astronomer Dean McLaughlin may have at one time been the basin for a ground-water fed lake. Scientists base this on the deposits of what are known as “carbonate rocks,” detected by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) array housed on the Orbiter.

Carbonate rocks are sedimentary rocks that form when carbon precipitates out of water. Over centuries, small amounts of minerals form larger and larger coatings, eventually becoming the rocks that the MRO scientists were looking to find. But, because there don’t seem to be any obvious tributaries – rivers or streams – present as there are elsewhere on Mars, the assumption is that this lake was formed by water seeping up from beneath the crater to fill the basin:

The new information comes from researchers analyzing spectrometer data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which looked down on the floor of McLaughlin Crater. The Martian crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) in diameter and 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) deep. McLaughlin’s depth apparently once allowed underground water, which otherwise would have stayed hidden, to flow into the crater’s interior.

McLaughlin Crater is approximately 100 miles from the landing site of the short-lived Pathfinder expedition, which launched in 1996. It is about 160 or so lines of longitude away from the Curiosity rover, so it stands to reason that this is not a feature of Mars that Curiosity will be exploring. You can see in the image the concentric circular shapes that scientists believe are the layers of sedimentary rock.

Photo: NASA/JPL

With new photos coming in every few days, you might think this could get boring. It won’t but you might think that.

The most amazing thing about the current batch of photos is just how well-documented the landing actually is. Several images reveal the Curiosity landing area and all its various parts, all predictably arranged on the surface. Enjoy:

The Curiosity rover is already paying dividends in amazing photography, as it has just beamed back a series of photos showing its descent to the Martian surface. The amazing sequence of snap shots includes a series of images of the heat shield that protected Curiosity for most of the descent falling away as the rover continues on with its mission. Even more amazing, NASA JPL put together a stop-motion video piecing together multiple shots into a single mesmerizing stop-motion animation of Curiosity’s descent which you can watch here.

Great new photos this week from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs and the International Space Station! First up is a look at a quite unexpected hole in the ashy slope of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano. It appears to lead to an underground tunnel:

Photo and further info: apod.nasa.gov

Next up is yet another phenomenon that we take for granted on Earth but have never seen from quite this same angle. Aboard the International Space Station, however, astronauts are able to take photos of lightning as it rains down on Vientiane, Laos:

Photo and additional info: Gateway to Astronaut Photography

Finally, while here in Rochester, we’ve had one little brush fire, other parts of the country are dealing with considerably more dangerous stuff. In Wyoming, a forest fire has consumed over 48,000 acres. NASA astronauts were also able to capture this incredible photo of a fire plume stretching over what looks to be a lonely stretch of flat land:

Photo: here