The Mars rover Curiosity has been exploring a part of the planet named after a remote area of the north-west Highlands. Nasa chose the name Torridon after the Torridonian Supergroup - not a band of ancient rock musicians, but a geological formation containing some of the oldest evidence of life on the planet.
The exploration of the Torridon quadrangle will be slow as scientists painstakingly manoeuvre the Curiosity across uncharted terrain. My two-day exploration of its Scottish namesake will need a faster set of wheels - time to fire up the Quattro.
Fans of time-travelling television series Ashes to Ashes will remember the catchphrase barked by DCI Gene Hunt. Philip Glenister played the politically incorrect copper with a passion for four-wheel-drive Audis - although the slogan was revived for a Conservative Party election poster in 2010, with David Cameron superimposed on the body of Hunt.
If you can't get that image out of your head, my Quattro is painted pearl metallic white and looks magnificent against the bracken-tinged backdrop of a glen. It's luxuriously equipped for the era featuring a radio cassette player, electric aerial and squidgy heated seats. A digital instrument display was way ahead of its time.
The Quattro was once sensational on the rally circuit and despite approaching its 30th birthday, this car still grips around a corner like a mountain goat with crampons. By 1990, Audi had produced more cars with four-wheel drive than any other manufacturer.
My adventure starts at Redpoint, a few miles south-west of the village of Gairloch, at the end of the road. It's a dramatic spot with magnificent views across to Torridon, the Applecross peninsula and even Skye on a clear day. There are two beaches tinged with red-hued sand. Look out for sea otters, whales and porpoises.
Nearby Gairloch is a group of three villages set around the end of a loch of the same name. It's a good base for walkers hiking nearby, but I'm heading south to The Torridon hotel. A luxury stop on the North Coast 500 route, many rooms offer gorgeous views of Liathach mountain, with Loch Torridon resplendent in the foreground.
Built in the Scottish baronial style, a fire crackles in the drawing room as I take time to ponder the 360 or so whiskies on offer. There's a swanky restaurant called 1887, with a seven-course taster menu - you will need plenty of time to work it off in the morning with a range of activities on offer, such as archery, sea kayaking or climbing.
Torridon is a bolt-hole where nobody will find you - even the Wi-Fi refuses to work on a cloudy day when westerly winds blow. It's not easy hauling myself away but the prospect of driving the Quattro north along the single-track A896 has a different appeal. As I pass beside the massif of Beinn Eighe, the road dissects a National Nature Reserve and follows the River Torridon itself. The road signs suggest low-flying deer and it's no surprise to see a stag with incredible antlers grazing beside the Tarmac.
Magnificent by day, this area of Scotland is also one of the best in the world for stargazing, according to Stephen Mackintosh, who runs Highland astronomy tours. "The region has minimal light pollution. There may be more cloud on the west coast but on a clear night it can be sensational."
There's time to grab a quick coffee at the Whistle Stop Café in Kinlochewe, where a wood stove keeps punters warm on cold mornings and the Quattro is a star attraction beside a group of touring Porsches. The building is made of corrugated tin painted green with a slate roof. Expect proper homemade food and friendly staff.
From here I take the A832 east, following what has to be one of the best driving roads in the country. It starts with an uphill stretch through Glen Docherty - complete with amazing viewpoint at the top - and continues on through the villages of Badavanich, Achnasheen and Achanalt, a railway halt that could be straight from the pages of Trainspotting. The Quattro is in its element and judging by the number of motorcyclists, this is obviously a favourite route. The Dingwall and Skye Railway line runs alongside most of the route, another adventure waiting to be hatched.
Decaying crofters' cottages are dotted around the distant hills, then on past Rogie Falls, famous for salmon viewing and a dramatic suspension bridge, to the east coast town of Dingwall, at the head of the Cromarty Firth. Just to the north, past the Glenmorangie Distillery, is Dornoch and one of the most prestigious private members' clubs in the world, the Carnegie Club.
Skibo Castle is a grand country pile that was once the home of Andrew Carnegie, the industrialist. A ruthless businessman who made his money in steel, he later gave away hundreds of millions of pounds to charitable and educational institutions in a rush of philanthropy.
The Skibo estate was a snip at £85,000 in 1898 for one of the world's richest men but he spent millions more in repairs and improvements. It was the first building in Scotland to have an Otis lift - still operational today - with electric lights and hot and cold running water adding to the air of luxury.
For those with seriously deep sporrans, the Carnegie Club offers guests the picture-perfect Scottish experience: a private golf course on the shores of Dornoch Firth, horse riding, falconry and a magnificent swimming pool and spa. The bedrooms are larger than my first London flat and, like the rest of the rooms, loaded with Edwardian splendour.
Quite what DCI Gene Hunt would have made of a posh pad that Carnegie himself called "heaven on Earth" we will never know - probably like landing on a different planet. Time for a fast getaway...
thetorridon.com; carnegieclub.co.uk; modulouniverse.com (astronomy tours)
1990 Audi quattro 20V
PRICE NEW £34,995
PRICE NOW £40,000
ENGINE 2,226cc five-cylinder
TOP SPEED 140mph
ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 5.9sec
FUEL ECONOMY 28.5mpg