This image shows where NASA’s Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as “Jake Matijevic” in late September 2012. The red dots indicate where Curiosity fired its laser at the rock. The circular black and white images are ChemCam images to examine the laser burns. Purple circles show spots where Curiosity used its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer to study the rock. The colors in the image have been “stretched” to accentuate compositional differences.
A rock on Mars being studied by NASA’s Curiosity rover is unlike any Martian stone ever seen, and is surprisingly similar to an unusual, but well-known, kind of rock on Earth.
This type of rock is the first of its kind encountered on Mars and is helping broaden scientists’ understanding of how igneous rocks form, scientists said Thursday. The rock, named “Jake Matijevic” in honor of a Curiosity mission team member who died in August, is a 16-inch-tall (40-centimeter-tall) pyramid-shape specimen that Curiosity encountered at its landing spot in Mars’ Gale Crater.
Curiosity, the centerpiece of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory Mission, touched down on the Red Planet Aug. 5 to learn whether Mars ever had the conditions necessary to support life.
The Jake rock is being used as a calibration target for Curiosity to try out its suite of 10 science instruments on. “It was the first good-sized rock that we found along the way,” Roger Wiens, principal investigator for Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Thursday during a press conference.
Not like other rocks
In late September Curiosity used ChemCam and its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) to probe Jake’s chemical composition. What they found was surprising.
“The spectrum that we’re seeing was not what I expected,” said APXS principal investigator Ralf Gellert of Canada’s University of Guelph. “It seems to be a new type of rock that we’ve discovered on Mars” that wasn’t seen by NASA’s previous Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Jake appears to have higher concentrations of elements such as sodium, aluminum and potassium, and lower concentrations of magnesium, iron and nickel, than other igneous rocks studied on Mars.
While previously unknown on Mars, this type of chemical composition is seen in a rare but well-studied class of rocks on Earth. On Earth, such specimens are found on oceanic islands such as Hawaii and in other places. They are thought to form when interior rocks melt to form magma, which then rises toward the surface. As it rises, it cools, and parts of the material crystalize, preferentially selecting some elements while leaving a remainder of liquid magma that is enriched with the left-behind chemicals.
However, the researchers said it’s too soon to know whether the Jake rock formed this same way.
“This is based on one rock and one has to be careful not to extrapolate,” said Edward Stolper, provost of Caltech and co-investigator on Curiosity’s science team. “You have to wait and see if we find others and if relationships among them give us clues into the processes.”
Ultimately, this rock is deepening scientists’ understanding of the types of geology present on Mars, and could reveal new formation processes for known types of rocks.
“There is a richness in the igneous story that’s not surprising,” Stolper told Space.com. “The more you look, the more you find different things happened.”
Mysterious shiny object
Curiosity is about 65 days into its mission, and still testing out all of its equipment.
The rover used its scoop tool to dig up Martian dirt for the first time earlier this week, and scientists saw a strange shiny object in photos of the scooped material. The find put a temporary halt on scooping activities while mission managers investigated the object.
Scientists have since concluded that it is most likely a bit of plastic from the rover itself or its descent stage that came loose and eventually fell onto the ground.
“The main thing here is, we scoured the rover and it’s completely inconsequential to the rover’s function,” said Chris Roumeliotis, lead turret rover planner for Curiosity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., where Curiosity’s mission control is based. “It’s likely from EDL [entry, descent and landing], and there is absolutely no issue.”
Mission team members will continue investigating the debris, but they think it might be a piece of resistive heating material from the rover’s exterior that was attached with adhesive, which might have come unstuck.
This week’s GeekWire App of the Week is “Mars Images.” It’s not a particularly sophisticated app, or a new one, but I’ve become a regular user recently because it provides a quick and easy way to see NASA’s very latest images from Mars.
Developed by Mark Powell of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the app previously provided images just from the Mars Rover Opportunity. But a recent update to the app added images from the recently landed Curiosity rover, with the ability to toggle back and forth between the two rovers.
Yes, you can get the same images by poking around on the NASA site, but there’s something to be said for checking in with Curiosity every day on your phone or tablet, right after going through your email and social networking feeds, to see what the rover is seeing.
For example, earlier this week, before I heard that NASA had started to test drive the vehicle, I noticed that Curiosity was capturing images of its own tire tracks. It was a neat way to discover the news, and the experience promises to only get cooler in the coming weeks.
App of the Week is a regular feature of the GeekWire radio show and podcast, airing at 7 a.m. every Saturday and 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. every Sunday on 97.3 KIRO-FM in Seattle, and running weekends on GeekWire.com. Here’s the audio of this week’s segment.
According to the fringe sector of the Internet, Mars is practically teeming with aliens.
Since NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on the Red Planet two weeks ago and powered up its cameras, it has already managed to photograph several alleged UFOs and other “anomalies” in the surrounding landscape.
From classic flying saucers to an absurdly out-of-place fossilized human finger, here’s a rundown of what UFO believers claim to have found in Curiosity photos so far. [Gallery of Mars ‘UFO’ Photos ]
Horizon anomaly (aka impact cloud)
Speculation about Martians in Curiosity’s midst got off to a running start when the very first sequence of photos taken by the rover raised questions. A hazy, distant object mysteriously appeared and then disappeared in consecutive images of the Martian horizon, perplexing even NASA scientists at first.
But the much-discussed “anomaly” turned out not to be a sign of alien activity, but rather the plume of dust kicked up by the sky crane that delivered the rover close to the Martian surface, then veered off and struck the ground some 2,000 feet (600 meters) away.
“We believe we’ve caught what is the descent stage impact on the Martian surface,” said NASA engineer Steven Sell, sky crane specialist on the Curiosity mission.
Flying saucers (aka dead pixels)
In footage posted to YouTube Aug. 18, user “StephenHannardADGUK” applies a series of filters to a Curiosity image of the nearby rim of Gale crater, revealing what he says are four flying saucer -like objects stationed in the sky. More than 700,000 people have since given the video a gander.
“Four objects caught by Mars Curiosity, very difficult to make out on original image so I have used a few filters to highlight,” he said in the video description. “What are these four objects?UFOs, Dust particles, or something else? As always you decide.”
Experts say the four “objects” are actually just dead pixels in the rover’s CCD camera — single points in the camera’s imager that have lost functionality and register as white. Marc D’Antonio, a photo and video analyst for MUFON [Mutual UFO Network], told Huffington Post, “I fully concur at this point that these are dead pixels on the imager. All CCD (cameras) have them, and in a bland atmosphere like that at Mars, they would be very obvious as opposed to an active atmosphere like Earth, where they could end up hidden for a long time before anyone noticed them.”
Photoshop filtering processes often blend, color-correct or contrast-heighten images in ways that turn single dead pixels into larger, more prominent shapes. In other words, “using a few filters” is exactly what the YouTube user should not have done in trying to clarify the contents of the Curiosity photo.
White dot UFOs (aka Photoshopped)
In a YouTube video that has racked up more than 400,000 views since it was posted by “ParanormalCollection” on Aug. 7, two small white dots trek across the Martian sky in a time-lapse sequence supposedly shot by one of Curiosity’s hazard avoidance cameras and then accidentally “leaked” by NASA. The footage would be very curious indeed, and deserving of the widespread media attention it has accrued — if it were real, that is.
The images that appear in the footage are in fact the very first ones released by NASA, on Aug. 5, in which the impact cloud from the sky crane can be seen rising like a plume near the horizon. The difference is that no white dots appear in the original images.
This leaves viewers to contemplate which is more likely: that Curiosity happened to capture UFOs in the very first photos it took of Mars, that NASA removed the UFOs and released the scrubbed photos, then accidentally leaked the originals to “ParanormalCollection” — or that this YouTube user simply took the photos released by NASA, added a sequence of white dots to them in Photoshop, and posted the creation to YouTube? [7 Huge Misconceptions about Aliens]
Ancient finger, shoe, animal (aka rocks)
StephenHannardADGUK, he of dead pixel fame, also stumbled upon a few items that may or may not be leftover props from a David Lynch film miraculously transported to the floor of Mars’ Gale Crater. “Mars Curiosty(sp) captures a possible ancient finger, a dome shaped object, a shoe or sandal and a possible Martian creature,” Hannard wrote in the video description. “Are these anomalies real, tricks of the light or something else, as always you decide.”
When Hannard zooms in on the rocks — which is what we have decided they are — one sees that the finger rock does indeed have a faint, shadowy outline at one end that looks somewhat like a fingernail, and the shoe rock does bear a resemblance to a carelessly overturned sandal. Likewise, a roughly round rock could be described as a dome-shaped object, and a crevice on another boulder does give it the vague look of a grinning Martian animal.
It’s the logical leap of deciding that the rocks might actually be these things that most people don’t take.
NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars a couple of weeks ago, and has since spent its time upgrading its software and making sure its instruments are in tip-top shape. But with a name like Curiosity, it’s not going to be satisfied hanging out in one spot for long.
Accordingly, NASA has announced the selection of Curiosity’s first destination: Glenelg, an intersection of different kinds of Martian terrain only 1,300 feet from the rover’s landing spot:
“With such a great landing spot in Gale Crater, we literally had every degree of the compass to choose from for our first drive,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger in a press release. “We had a bunch of strong contenders. It is the kind of dilemma planetary scientists dream of, but you can only go one place for the first drilling for a rock sample on Mars. That first drilling will be a huge moment in the history of Mars exploration.”
NASA didn’t announce when the roving mission would begin.
Before heading off on its first trek across the Martian surface, the rover will also test its high-powered rock-zapping laser — the most powerful laser ever fired on an alien world.
Curiosity will also exercise each of its four steerable wheels and test moving in both gears: forward and reverse.
“There will be a lot of important firsts that will be taking place for Curiosity over the next few weeks, but the first motion of its wheels, the first time our roving laboratory on Mars does some actual roving, that will be something special,” said Michael Watkins, mission manager for Curiosity.
After Curiosity checks out Glenelg, it will head to its primary mission target of Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered Martian rock:
Are you excited about the potential discoveries awaiting Curiosity? Share your thoughts in the comments.
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — NASA’s Curiosity rover has zapped its first Martian rock, aiming its laser for the sake of science.
During the target practice on Sunday. Curiosity fired 30 pulses at a nearby rock over a 10-second window, burning a small hole.
Since landing in Gale Crater two weeks ago, the six-wheel rover has been checking out its instruments including the laser. During its two-year mission, Curiosity was expected to point the laser at various rocks as it drives toward Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high mountain rising from the crater floor.
Its goal is to determine whether the Martian environment was habitable.
In several days, flight controllers will command Curiosity to move its wheels side-to-side and take its first short drive.
The new Mars rover Curiosity has been on Mars now for 10 days, following its daring and unprecedented landing on August 5-6, 2012. The landing captured the world’s imagination, and, since then, the rover has been giving us wonderful photos of Mars. The rover spent last weekend – its first weekend on Mars – transitioning to software better suited for the tasks that lie ahead of it, such as driving and using its robotic arm. Here are some of my favorites among Curiosity’s images so far.
Curiosity descent on August 5-6, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The image above is not part of the Curiosity rover itself. Instead, it’s the rover’s heat shield falling away from the bottom of Curiosity as the rover plunged toward the Martian surface.
More from Curiosity’s descent. NASA released a stop motion video, above, showing the final minutes of Curiosity’s descent from the release of the heat shield to the surface. You can see the heat shield falling away as the rover plummeted through the Mars’ atmosphere. Toward the end, you can see dust was being kicked up as the rover was being lowered by cables to its resting place in the Gale Crater on Mars.
Another spacecraft caught this view of Curiosity descending by parachute, in the final stages before touch down. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
All the descent images, I like the one above the best. You can’t not like the image above. It’s the Curiosity rover descending by parachute to the Martian surface. Another spacecraft in orbit around Mars, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – which carries the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera – captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box. The rover is descending to Mars’ surface. From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover.
Curiosity shadow in foreground, Mount Sharp in background. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Mars landed in Mars’ Gale Crater on Mars. Its primary science goal is to explore Mount Sharp – aka Aeolis Mons – which forms the central peak within the crater. Here is one of Curiosity’s first views of Mt. Sharp, a 5.5-kilometer (18,000-foot) high mountain. Curiosity will drive to the base of the mountain and see what’s there. See the image at the bottom of this post to get some wider context of where Curiosity landed within the Gale Crater. By the way, in the image above, what’s that shadow in the foreground? It’s the shadow of the rover itself.
Curiosity on Mars, as seen by another spacecraft orbiting Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
I love the image above. It’s the first color image of Curiosity from orbit. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of Curiosity on the surface of Mars one day after the landing.
Image from Curiosity on August 7, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity captured the image (above) of itself and the Mars landscape surrounding it on August 7. This image shows part of the deck of the rover taken from one of its navigation cameras, looking toward the back left of the rover. On the left of this image, part of the rover’s power supply is visible. To the right of the power supply can be seen the pointy low-gain antenna and side of the paddle-shaped high-gain antenna for communications directly to Earth. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon. The effects of the descent stage’s rocket engines blasting the ground can be seen on the right side of the image, next to the rover.
Looking south on August 8, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Then on August 8 came the image above. Now the rover is looking southward from its landing site, towards Mount Sharp again. NASA says that, in this version of the image, colors have been modified as if the scene were transported to Earth and illuminated by terrestrial sunlight. This processing, called “white balancing,” is useful for scientists to be able to recognize and distinguish rocks by color in more familiar lighting. NASA said:
The image provides an overview of the eventual geological targets Curiosity will explore over the next two years, starting with the rock-strewn, gravelly surface close by, and extending towards the dark dunefield. Beyond that lie the layered buttes and mesas of the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp.
View from Curiosity on August 9, 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The image above – released by NASA August 9, 2012 – shows a view taken by shows the mountains looming in the distance in front of Curiosity. These mountains form the crater wall north of the landing site, or behind the rover. At this part of the crater, a network of valleys – believed to have formed by water erosion – enters Gale Crater from the outside.
Curiosity’s location within the Gale Crater on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Here’s a good image (above) of Curiosity’s location within the Gale Crater itself. Where is Curiosity within the largest context of Mars’ surface? Check out landing sites of previous Mars rovers and Curiosity
Mars in the night sky in early August 2012. If you looked outside in mid-August, Mars would be on the left, not the right, side of this triangle of objects. Look west after sunset. Click here to enlarge this image.. EarthSky Facebook friend Denise Talley shared this image.
And last but not least, don’t forget that Mars is visible to your eye alone in our night sky. The image above is from early August, around the time Curiosity landed on Mars. If you looked outside for Mars tonight – gazing in the west after sunset – you’d find that it’s still in a triangle with two other objects, the planet Saturn and star Spica in the cosntellation Virgo. Mars has been moving with respect to those other two objects, though, over this past week. It’s now on the left side of the triangle instead of on the right. Here’s more about how to spot Mars in the west after sunset.
By the way, Space.com has an awesome video animation showing how the Curiosity looked and sounded during its descent to Mars’ surface. Enjoy it.
Bottom line: Here are my favorite images of Curiosity – or from Curiosity – taken in the 10 days since the Mars rover landed on the Red Planet’s surface on August 5-6, 2012.
Well folks, as images from the Mars Curiosity Rover continue to come in, they’re as disappointingly anticlimactic as the landing procedure was thrilling. With the amazing technological prowess demonstrated by pulling off the landing procedure, many will wonder: Why do the photos suck so much? A measly 2-megapixel camera with 8 gigs of memory, are you kidding me? Why don’t they just cover the Curiosity with an array of $300 GoPro cameras?
The answer of the limitations is twofold (and the second part might be familiar to any ID’ers who’ve worked on projects with horrendously long development times). First off, NASA’s sole option for getting images sent from Mars to Earth is to use a UHF, or ultra-high frequency, transmitter. That’s basically radio waves, it’s not like they’ve got a really long fiber-optic cable lying around somewhere. The Rover beams the signal to two relay spacecraft orbiting Mars, and they bounce the signal all the way back to Earth. And there’s not a lot of bandwidth in there, particularly since the other non-camera instruments need to send data back too.
The second part is a bit more disappointing, and it has to do with the Curiosity’s long lead time. “These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don’t get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else,” Malin Space Science Systems’ Mike Ravine, who helped develop the cameras, told camera-reviewing website DPreview. “2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn’t sound too bad in 2004.”
We’ve oversimplified the answer a bit here. Camera and technology geeks interested in all the gory details can read a more in-depth explanationhere.
Is there life on Mars? NASA’s latest mission to the red planet might well answer that question, or perhaps the more pertinent question, was there life on Mars. At 10:02 AM EST on November 26th last year, the space agency’s Mars Science Laboratory (to give the mission its full name) set off on its eight-month journey to the red planet. The most advanced equipment ever sent to the planet — and the biggest-ever rover — should allow exploration of some of the most interesting regions, over far larger distances than ever previously covered. On arrival, after negotiating a tricky landing, the mobile laboratory (that’s Curiosity) will spend a Martian year (687 Earth days) analyzing rock samples and seeking evidence of conditions suitable for microbial life or — we can live in hope — actual evidence of the same. After the break, we take a look at some of the key events over the first seven days on the planet’s surface.
The Mars Descent Imager Instrument (MARDI) shows the heat shield after separation from the craft.
At 01:32 AM EDT on August 6th, the rover Curiosity successfully negotiates its descent to the surface of Mars, landing at the foot of a mountain within Gale Crater. Just a few minutes after landing, the first tantalizing images start to make their way back to earth.
“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars” –NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
Curiosity on its descent to the planet’s surface.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory team celebrates the successful landing.
One of the first high-resolution images to come back from the Curiosity rover.
Once safely on the planet’s surface, more patience is required as the rover has to perform health checks and assess its tilt before it can tackle the fun part of roving the landscape looking for samples. Day one, or “Sol 0” as the team refer to it, is when we start seeing the first images return to earth, 5MB in total.
The two main Mastcams were developed by Malin Space Science Systems, and while the specs may seem humble for a $2 billion project — two megapixels and 8GB of Flash memory — Mike Ravine from the firmexplains to dpreview that these specifications have to be set in stone long in advance (2004 in this case). And due to the UHF communication setup, only about 30MB of data can be returned each day. Even this is shared between various systems. Wondering about the focal lengths? Mastcam-34 has a 34mm lens, or a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 115mm. Meanwhile, Mastcam-100 sports a 100mm lens (343mm equivalent). If you want to know more about all the cameras on board, Wired has created a handy Photo-Geek’s Guide.
The view from the hazard-avoidance camera with and without the clear dust cover.
The first hi-res shots from the head-mounted navigation camera.
A clear view of the rover’s deck.
Finding its feet
As health checks continue, Curiosity sets about getting more familiar with the lay of the land. Gale Crater is its current home, and today the rover will raise its mast, and perform tests on the high-gain antenna. This is also the day when the first color image is received back home, showing the rocky landscape in all its famed red glory.
How does a rover find its way around such a distant land? In no small part, it’s thanks to ECU Alum Scott Maxwell, who not only writes the software that drives the rover; he is one of the crew that controls it also. Pretty good bragging rights we’d say.
Color images start arriving back at base. Yep, definitely a red planet.
Curiosity takes a good look at itself.
Soaking up the view
The MSL team wakes up Curiosity on Sol 2 with a dose of The Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning.” Overall status of the rover continues to be good, and full-frame images begin relaying back via the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI). Today is when we also see the first 360-degree panorama. It’s patched together from thumbnails, and is black and white, but it gives us the first chance to imagine the full landscape.
Like those Google Maps tiles that refuse to load. 360 degrees on Mars.
Taken from the first color panorama and showing blast marks from the descent.
The full landscape in color.
Sol 3 is ushered in to the tune of “Good Morning”, this time from the musical “Singin’ in the Rain.” Today, the flight team uploads some files to the rover’s remote electronics unit memory — we’re not sure of the connection speeds they got — in preparation for a forthcoming upgrade. The main Mastcams appear to be working well, and completes 360-degree and calibration checks. Meanwhile, the science team starts mapping off a 150-square-mile area within Gale Crater.
The left side of the rover, and the blast marks left during the descent.
An over-the-air update is a tense moment even when you’re right next to the router, let alone when you’re millions of miles away. We’re confident the NASA team knows what it’s doing though, and don’t expect Curiosity to become the world’s most expensive brick. The “brain transplant” will retool some of the redundant main computers to make them more useful for forthcoming sections of the mission. In fact, from the start, Curiosity was designed to receive periodic updates as its task requirements change.
This particular update enables the rover to better check for obstacles, which will let it drive longer distances and avoiding any costly collisions. That’s an insurance claim we’d love to see.
A small section taken from a hi-res panorama, see the full-size image here.
More higher-resolution images start arriving back at base.
Want to see more pictures, or continue following the journey? Head over to the Mars Science Laboratory’s dedicated sub-site for all the latest.
Earlier this week, a strange silhouette appeared on one of the early pictures taken by the Mars Curiosity rover’s Hazard-Avoidance Cams. Shortly after that picture was taken, the mysterious shadow was gone, causing a firestorm among conspiracy theorists worldwide.
The answer to the mystery was simple—and pretty cool too:
According to NASA, it was the impact plume created by the sky crane’s crash on the Martian surface.
The images shown in this animated GIF were taken 45 minutes apart, which explains why you can see the impact plume on the first but it’s gone on the second.
Think it’s nifty when your carrier deigns to provide your smartphone with that long awaited OTAupdate? That’s nothing. Over the weekend, NASA’s Curiosity rover will be receiving its first long-distance OTA update — all the way out there on Mars. The goal is to transition both redundant main computers from software suited for landing the vehicle to software optimized for surface exploration — such as driving, obstacle avoidance and using the robotic arm. NASA calls it a “brain transplant” and points out that the software was actually uploaded during the flight from Earth. Now can someone please enable OTA downloads for the human brain? We’d really like to know kung fu.