The Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (Atlas) has an important job to do: look out for "town killer," "city killer" and "county killer" asteroids that might pose a threat to Earth. But sometimes it sees more than just space rocks.
The telescope project fortuitously caught sight of.
On Friday, the NASA Asteroid Watch Twitter account shared a GIF of the Atlas Maunoloa telescope's view of the Tianwen-1 spacecraft against a field of stars. Red lines point out the spacecraft's movement.
and is scheduled to reach Mars in February, when it will attempt to land a rover on the red planet.
China's effort is one of three major Mars missions leaving Earth this month. The United Arab Emirates alreadyand on July 30.
Atlas is a joint project from NASA and the University of Hawaii. "It consists of two telescopes, 100 miles apart, which automatically scan the whole sky several times every night looking for moving objects," says the ATLAS site. The second telescope is located on the island of Maui.
The Atlas view of Tianwen-1 is a lovely goodbye view of an ambitious mission. We can also breathe easy considering it saw a spacecraft and not a worrisome asteroid.