No one would have believed, in the early years of the 21st century …

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA is a 360 degree panorama from the Spirit rover on Mars. It’s been up there five years, trundling around doing its stuff.Five years! Those rocks and sedimentary layers and grains of sand have been unobserved for millions of years, but now Wall-E’s distant ancestor is rolling around up there and taking it all in. It fills me with almost as much wonder as the thought that America now has a black president.

Making the picture even more fun is spotting the number of features named after science fiction people or ideas. There’s Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, Jack Williamson and Frederic Brown, not to mention Monolith, Martian Chronicles and Malacandra. Someone at NASA is reading far too much of exactly the right stuff.

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