Somewhere deep in the Marshall Space Center, in an unmarked beige hangar, NASA is building a spaceship. A spaceship built with spare parts, scrap hardware from the International Space Stations, a left-over aluminum-lithium cylinder and even museum mockups. One day, it may become the vessel that takes humans to Mars.
NASA engineers lead by Paul Bookout aretalking about it at the the Fifth Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium, happening now in Huntsville, Alabama. Bookout’s team is working with a team from the Johnson Space Center in Houston led by astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew, a USAF Colonel who’s been to space twice, including on the last mission of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
According to Bookout, the team is using its spaceship habitat to look at volume studies: “Are the crew quarters going to be the right size, the waste and hygiene compartment, the wardroom, the exercise area—we’re looking at all those for this extended stay.”
The spaceship model that Bookout and his colleagues are building is a medium-fidelity version of the habitat that may shelter the astronauts that go to Mars for the first time. It includes crew quarters that are two times as big as the crew space in the ISS, with everything they need to survive, including food storage.
There’s also a science bay that also serves as a greenhouse in which they will be able to grow plants during their trip. You know, just like in the movies.
Water shields and the Star Trek-ish 3D replicator
The Mars spaceship habitat is surrounded by a wall of water, which will protect the astronauts against radiation. Water is a great insulator against the dangerous galactic cosmic rays and solar flares that may otherwise kill the astronauts after such an extended period of time in space.
But the awesomerest detail may actually be the onboard replicator. It will not be a Star Trekdevice, but rather a 3D printer that will make tools and parts as the crew demands, recycling old tools, food containers and any other discarded material.
It’s good to know that Mars plans are still advancing, even while NASA’s future budget depends on yet another election and faces perhaps yet another round of financial cuts. It’s still a move forward, even if it’s made of scraps and museum mockups.
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.
See those weird, black, spidery things dotting the dunes in this colorized photo taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010? Yeah. Nobody knows what the hell those things are.
What we do know about them just underlines how incredibly unfamiliar Mars really is to us. First spotted by humans in 1998, these splotches pop up every Martian spring, and disappear in winter. Usually, they appear in the same places as the previous year, and they tend to congregate on the sunny sides of sand dunes — all but shunning flat ground. There’s nothing on Earth that looks like this that we can compare them to. It’s a for real-real mystery, writes Robert Krulwich at NPR. But there are theories:
Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, from Hungary, from the European Space Agency have all proposed explanations; the leading one is so weird, it’s transformed my idea of what it’s like to be on Mars. For 20 years, I’ve thought the planet to be magnificently desolate, a dead zone, painted rouge. But imagine this: Every spring, the sun beats down on a southern region of Mars, morning light melts the surface, warms up the ground below, and a thin, underground layer of frozen CO2 turns suddenly into a roaring gas, expands, and carrying rock and ice, rushes up through breaks in the rock, exploding into the Martian air. Geysers shoot up in odd places. It feels random, like being surprise attacked by an monstrous, underground fountain.
“If you were there,” says Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, “you’d be standing on a slab of carbon dioxide ice. All around you, roaring jets of carbon dioxide gas are throwing sand and dust a couple hundred feet into the air.” The ground below would be rumbling. You’d feel it in your spaceboots.
The Mars Rover has detected the first on-the-ground evidence of an ancient streambed. If there was water, could Mars have supported life? NBC’s Tom Costello reports
A close look at pebble-filled layers of rock has convinced scientists that NASA’s Curiosity rover is driving through a dried-up stream bed on Mars where water flowed vigorously billions of years ago. They say it’s the kind of place that just might have supported life when the planet was young.
“This is a rock that was formed in the presence of water,” Caltech’s John Grotzinger, project scientist for the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, said today during a televised news conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The evidence is in the shape, size and composition of the rocks that Curiosity came across at multiple sites during its landing on Aug. 5. Conglomerate rocks, consisting of pebbles cemented together within layers of sediment, were seen at three sites:
- Goulburn, a bedrock formation that was exposed by the blast from Curiosity’s descent.
- Link, a rock outcrop that was seen once Curiosity headed out from the landing site.
- Hottah, an uplifted slab of craggy rock that was given a visual inspection two weeks ago.
Hottah in particular showed clear evidence of rounded pebbles that were too big to be smoothed by the action of the wind. Some of the rocks are as big as golf balls. The best explanation for the gravelly pebbles was that they were eroded by the vigorous flow of water, said Curiosity science team member Rebecca Williams, a senior scientist at the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute.
The Hottah slab, which measures 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) thick, looks as if “somebody came along the surface of Mars with a jackhammer and lifted up a sidewalk that you might see in downtown LA, sort of like in a construction site,” Grotzinger said.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
A closeup view of the “Hottah” rock outcrop shows the characteristic pebbly rock that is associated with the action of a flowing stream. Broken surfaces of the outcrop have rounded, gravel clasts, such as the one circled in white, which is about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) across. The rock formation was named after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The Planetary Science Institute’s Rebecca Williams describes new images from Mars.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / PSI
This set of images compares the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars (left) with similar rocks seen on Earth (right). The image of Link, obtained by NASA’s Curiosity rover, shows rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple of inches (few centimeters) wide, within the rock outcrop. In accordance with the Mars mission’s tradition, Link takes its name from a rock formation in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The evidence from the ground meshes well with the evidence from orbit indicating that Curiosity is near an 11-mile-wide (18-kilometer-wide) fan of material that may have washed down a channel in ancient times, when Mars was warmer and wetter, according to William Dietrich, a planetary scientist at the University of California at Berkeley.
“These stones … are very, very revealing to us about the process,” Dietrich said. Some previous research has suggested that water flowed on Mars only for brief periods, separated by long, cold, dry spells. That scenario might not have provided enough time for life to get a foothold on the Red Planet in ancient times. But Dietrich said the patterning of the channels within the fan suggested that water streamed through the area for well beyond a thousand-year time scale.
“We can step away from the idea that there was a single burst of water … that built it all in a day,” he told reporters.
Based on the size of the gravel seen by Curiosity, Dietrich estimated that the water moved at a speed of about 3 feet (1 meter) per second, at a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep.
“Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them,” Dietrich said in a NASA news release. “This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.”
NASA / JPL-Caltech / Univ. of Ariz.
This image shows the topography, with shading added, around the area where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed. Higher elevations are colored in red, with cooler colors indicating transitions downslope to lower elevations. The map highlights an alluvial fan of material, apparently issuing from a channel named Peace Vallis. The black oval indicates the targeted landing area for the rover known as the “landing ellipse,” and the cross shows where the rover actually landed.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / UC-Berkeley
This image shows a dry streambed on an alluvial fan in Chile’s Atacama Desert, revealing the typical patchy, heterogeneous mixture of grain sizes deposited together. On Mars, Curiosity has seen two rock outcrops close to its Bradbury Landing site that also record a mixture of sand and pebbles transported by water. Scientists say the mixture was probably deposited along an ancient streambed.
So far, the scientists’ conclusions are based exclusively on visual observations by Curiosity’s high-resolution Mastcam imager. Further imagery, along with chemical readings from other instruments on the rover, will likely be used to fill out the story of the ancient stream bed, Grotzinger said.
The main goal of Curiosity’s two-year primary mission is to assess how habitable Mars was in ancient times. That’s why mission managers chose 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) Gale Crater as Curiosity’s landing site. It has that alluvial fan, which appears to issue forth from a channel that has now officially been designated Peace Vallis. It also has a 3-mile-high (5-kilometer-high) mountain, known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, which could preserve billions of years’ worth of Mars’ geological record.
Grotzinger noted that the three requirements for habitability typically listed by astrobiologists are the presence of liquid water, the availability of an energy source (such as sunlight) and the presence of carbon-based compounds that can be used as the building blocks of life.
“Now we’ve got a hall pass for the water examination,” Grotzinger joked.
Theoretically, a long-flowing stream could be a habitable environment. “It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though,” Grotzinger said in NASA’s news release. “We’re still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment.”
Even if the rover’s instruments detect the right kinds of carbon compounds, that would not serve as confirmation of ancient life on Mars. That would “have to wait for another mission,” Grotzinger said.
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.
In showbiz, the adage has always been “leave ‘em wanting more.” So, following the brilliant opening salvos of its $2.5 billion Mars rover mission, what does NASA do for an encore?
Current budget paradigms dictate that the space agency think economically in its approach to future Mars exploration. For surface-based exploration, that means a realistic return to NASA’s Discovery-class solar system exploration missions on budgets of $450 million or less.
Thus, NASA has just announced that it has selected InSight, a new $425 million Mars surface mission for launch in 2016. Building on the space agency’s Mars Phoenix Lander spacecraft technology, InSight will study the Red Planet’s deep interior for clues to how its planetary structure actually evolved. It should also determine whether Mars has a liquid or solid core and why unlike earth, its crust lacks drifting tectonic plates.
But then how about some good old-fashioned geyser hopping?
Mars Geyser Hopper, a Discovery-class mission concept study that has largely gone unnoticed, is potentially a follow-on to the Phoenix Lander mission and would launch at earliest in 2018.
The spacecraft would represent the first attempt to land at Mars’ geographic South Pole and would offer the promise of some spectacular high-quality live-action video of carbon dioxide geysers spewing forth at the beginning of early spring. That’s when the sun is still only a few degrees above the horizon and temperatures are typically 150 degrees below zero Celsius.
Using automated detection equipment, the hopper would pick up the first signs of an erupting geyser which, in turn, would trigger high-speed particle motion detectors and high-resolution imagery. There would also be detailed chemical analysis of geyser fallout once it hit the Martian surface.
It wouldn’t be the first time NASA has played the hopping game; in 1967, the space agency’s Surveyor VI spacecraft made an eight-ft. repositioning hop after landing on the lunar surface.
But the Geyser Hopper mission would make at least two subsequent hops after landing. The first would enable the spacecraft to better study the geyser fields during southern polar summer. And the second would be to position itself to best wait out the harsh dark polar winter.
There have been hundreds of geysers seen from Mars polar orbit already. But thousands of springtime geysers are thought to potentially stretch over an area of several hundred kilometers; crowding the polar landscape at a density of roughly one geyser for every 2 kilometers.
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.