|Courtesy of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)|
But it's not. Not even close...close to Earth, that is. This is the surface of another object in the Solar System, and it's not a planet either. It's an asteroid called Itokawa. I somehow missed these pictures in 2005-2006 when the Hayabusa satellite arrived there, landed, and returned to Earth with some small particles of the asteroid (it arrived back in June of 2010). Asteroid Itokawa is small (about 600-700 meters long), and is barely a single object. It is a fairly loose agglomeration of chunks and pieces of rock...a space breccia
I appreciate blogger Glacial Till, who brought this picture to my attention last week (by coyly putting a picture of Titus Canyon in Death Valley to distract me). For more info on the Hayabusa mission to Itokawa, check out this site.
The next picture is similar; it could have been taken in practically any desert environment. It looks like some wind has cleared off another piece of breccia of some sort. What's special is that this rock isn't on Earth either, it's on Mars. The Rover mission, slated to last for 90 days, has been continuing for seven years. This picture is hot off the press, taken just a short while ago (September 7) by the Opportunity Rover on the edge of Endeavour Crater. You can read a NASA press release about the rock here. The rock is called Chester Lake.
The Rover, like any geologist working an outcrop, has to look up once in a while to gain some context for the area they are working in. Here is a shot of the view from the site. The researchers have to be very selective about which rocks to test. I feel such a powerful desire to wander across this landscape, picking up and collecting all kinds of samples. Many thanks to Joel Hagen for bringing these photos to my attention.