Category Archives: Mars Rovers

Egg Rock

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This golf-ball-sized object, informally named “Egg Rock,” is an iron-nickel meteorite. Iron-nickel meteorites are a common class of space rocks found on Earth, and previous examples have been found on Mars, but Egg Rock is the first on Mars to be examined with a laser-firing spectrometer.

The laser pulses on Oct. 30, 2016, induced bursts of glowing gas at the target, and ChemCam’s spectrometer read the wavelengths of light from those bursts to gain information about the target’s composition. The laser pulses also burned through the dark outer surface, exposing bright interior material.

If you click the image above you will get a  colorized view from the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a grid of shiny dots where ChemCam had fired laser pulses used for determining the chemical elements in the target’s composition.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

Wharton Ridge

Here is an image taken of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars. This image contains a portion of “Marathon Valley and “Wharton Ridge” and was taken in August 2016 by the rover Opportunity!

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From the caption released with the image:

The full extent of Wharton Ridge is visible, with the floor of Endeavour Crater beyond it and the far wall of the crater in the distant background. Near the right edge of the scene is “Lewis and Clark Gap,” through which Opportunity crossed from Marathon Valley to “Bitterroot Valley” in September 2016.

Before the rover departed Marathon Valley, its panoramic camera (Pancam) acquired the component images for this scene on Aug. 30, 2016, during the 4,480th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars.

Opportunity’s science team chose the ridge’s name to honor the memory of Robert A. Wharton (1951-2012), an astrobiologist who was a pioneer in the use of terrestrial analog environments, particularly in Antarctica, to study scientific problems connected to the habitability of Mars. Over the course of his career, he was a visiting senior scientist at NASA Headquarters, vice president for research at the Desert Research Institute, provost at Idaho State University, and president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

The view spans from east-northeast at left to southeast at right. It merges exposures taken through three of the Pancam’s color filters, centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). It is presented in approximately true color.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Leaving Murray Buttes

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The roving Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is leaving Murray Buttes and those fabulous layered rocks. To be more accurate Murray Buttes is a region on Mount Sharp and is a great example of wind in action.

The buttes and mesas rising above the surface in this area are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. Curiosity closely examined that layer — called the “Stimson formation” — during the first half of 2016, while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation. The layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding” and indicates that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes.

The image was taken on Sept. 8, 2016, during the 1454th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. — NASA

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

A Look Around Curiosity

Here’s a look around Curiosity, or the Mars Science Laboratory on Mars.  For two minutes you can look around the scene by using the arrows at the top left of the video or just “clicking and dragging” your way around.  Running out of time is no problem just replay the video (or whatever you would call this).

The scene is from a location called Murray Buttes and most of the features are labeled.  The rover is not visible in this MastCam product.

For scale The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover’s arm is about 50 feet (about 15 meters) high and, near the top, about 200 feet (about 60 meters) wide according to NASA.

I was looking at the panorama and thought how completely quiet it must be up there and what it would sound like to try and get an echo off the buttes. The echo time lag of course depends on the speed of sound on Mars. Looking around on the web quickly reveals the speed of sound on Mars is about 244.4 m/s or 801.3 ft/s compared to 340 m/sec or 1115 ft/sec on Earth. So the echo would take nearly 25 percent longer to return on Mars than on Earth.

Video

Speed of sound on Mars
Speed of sound on Earth

Mission Extended

Four years down and now there are two more to go for the Mars Science Laboratory or Curiosity. The rover looks to be in rather good condition, the wheels are a bit worn but not seeming to be getting worse, so who knows we could have Curiosity around for quite a while.

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Getting Sandy

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The MSL rover Curiosity is showing it is getting sand covered, in fact there is a pretty good build up on some of the surfaces. Seems like not so long ago I commented that the dust was much less than I thought it could be.

From NASA’s website:

This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at “Namib Dune,” where the rover’s activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis.

The scene combines 57 images taken on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The camera used for this is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

Namib Dune is part of the dark-sand “Bagnold Dune Field” along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit have shown that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.

The location of Namib Dune is show on a map of Curiosity’s route at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7640. The relationship of Bagnold Dune Field to the lower portion of Mount Sharp is shown in a map at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16064.)

The view does not include the rover’s arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic’s component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic. This process was used previously in acquiring and assembling Curiosity self-portraits taken at sample-collection sites, including “Rocknest” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16468), “Windjana” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18390) and “Buckskin” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19807).

For scale, the rover’s wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

More information about Curiosity is online at http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Curious Wheels Update

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A few days ago I did a short post on the status of Curiosity’s wheels and yesterday the mission team released their assessment:

The team operating NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover uses the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover’s arm to check the condition of the wheels at routine intervals. This image of Curiosity’s left-middle and left-rear wheels is part of an inspection set taken on April 18, 2016, during the 1,315th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

Holes and tears in the wheels worsened significantly during 2013 as Curiosity was crossing terrain studded with sharp rocks on its route from near its 2012 landing site to the base of Mount Sharp. Team members are keeping a close eye for when any of the zig-zag shaped treads, call grousers, begin to break. Longevity testing with identical wheels on Earth indicates that when three grousers on a given wheel have broken, that wheel has reached about 60 percent of its useful mileage. Since Curiosity’s current odometry of 7.9 miles (12.7 kilometers) is about 60 percent of the amount needed for reaching all the geological layers planned in advance as the mission’s science destinations, and no grousers have yet broken, the accumulating damage to wheels is not expected to prevent the rover from reaching those destinations on Mount Sharp.

As with other images from Curiosity’s cameras, all of the wheel-inspection exposures are available in the raw images collections at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/. The Sol 1315 MAHLI raw images are at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/raw/?s=1315&camera=MAHLI. The rover’s location during this wheel check was on “Naukluft Plateau” on lower Mount Sharp.

Curiosity’s six aluminum wheels are about 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. Each of the six wheels has its own drive motor, and the four corner wheels also have steering motors.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curious Wheels

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Curiosity took this image on 16 April 2016, Sol 1313 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 08:18:49 UTC.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the wheels for a couple of years now due to the wear they show. The MSL mission team is also keeping watch and planning some of the drives with potential for further damage in mind. It looks like their efforts are working because the damage doesn’t look any worse than it was at least from what we see here.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS