Martian Landscape


A Navcam view of the Martian landscape. Click for the larger version. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


A picture of the Martian landscape but not from Curiosity. This is the the Navcam view from Opportunity.

Yes, Opportunity is still doing science on Mars after 3,749 Martian days when this image was taken (10 August 2014).
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Bonanza King Update

Curiostiy's HazCam testing Bonanza King. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity’s HazCam testing Bonanza King. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Last week I mentioned the Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity was at an interesting rock and mission managers were evaluating it to see if it would be a good choice for a sample collection (see the post).

Before there is a sample collection Curiosity uses the mini-drill procedure to aide in evaluating the location. Part of using the percussive drill for making a starter hole, probably akin to a hammer drill many of us use now and then. During the starter hole step Bonanza King moved a little bit and the protective software on Curiosity sensed it and stopped the procedure.

Mission managers decided to move on towards the long term goal of reaching Mount Sharp. Maybe they will find something interesting along the way.

MSL mission pages

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Bonanza King

A look from Curiosity's NAVCAM, in the center Bonanza King. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A look from Curiosity’s NAVCAM, in the center Bonanza King. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity, recently passed its second anniversary (in Earth years) on Mars. The rover is making its way to Mount Sharp. The base of Mount Sharp is about 3 km from Curiosity’s current location. The mission managers are using “softer” valleys to get there, the idea being to save on the wheel tread of the rover which readers here will know show a bit of wear.

There is an update on the journey in the form of a video from JPL / NASA. In the video they mention interesting sites would be examined on the way. One of those interesting sites is called Bonanza King and thanks to it looking different from the sandstone they have been seeing for a few months. If chosen Bonanza King would be the fourth drilling site.  See the video.

For those into weather, we do get some data on Martian weather: on 14 August 2014 the:

Air temp was
Max -1oC
Min -77oC

Soil temp was
Max 12oC
Min -82oC


Mean Pressure 758 Pa

The Max temperatures are actually not too bad. The lows though are downright cold. Interesting the minimum soil temperature is colder than the minimum air temperature.

If I did the conversion correctly for comparison, 1-Earth atmosphere is about 101,325 Pa, little wonder there is no water on Mars.

About the image above of Bonanza King from NASA:

In this image from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover looking up the ramp at the northeastern end of “Hidden Valley,” a pale outcrop including drilling target “Bonanza King” is at the center of the scene.

Curiosity used its Navigation Camera (Navcam) to capture this northward view during the 709th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Aug. 4, 2014). At that time, Curiosity was on the sand-covered floor of Hidden Valley. Due to unexpectedly high wheel slippage in the sand, the rover team subsequently decided to drive Curiosity out of the valley, up this ramp, to a higher location for examining a possible alternative route.

The ramp area holds several clusters of pale rocks resembling paving stones up to about the size of dinner plates. The team chose one, dubbed Bonanza King, as a candidate for the mission’s fourth drilling into a rock to collect a rock-powder sample for onboard analysis. The candidate target is in the patch of bright rocks between parallel wheel tracks in this image. For scale, the distance between the two tracks is about 9 feet (2.7 meters).

A map showing Hidden Valley is at

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover and the rover’s Navcam.

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Tire Wear

The wheel wear on the rover Curiosity.  Credit: JPL / NASA

The wheel wear on the rover Curiosity. Credit: JPL / NASA

Driving around on Mars is tough. I’ve been watching the wheel wear since I noticed what I thought was unusual wear back in November 2013. I know NASA is watching also, they are taking regular images of the wheels and possibly watching the substrate under the rover too (I think I read that at some point but I could be wrong too).

So just to keep you updated, this particular image was taken a couple of days ago on 17 July (Sol 691) and you can plainly see the wear. Hard to say if things are getting worse or not, I’m going with not.  The treads look good and the in-between parts would be less of a concern if the inner and outer parts of the wheel were tied into the treads somehow and they could be.  So, I’ll stay optimistic, but I’m still surprised at the extent of the wear.

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Rover Treks Out of Landing Ellipse

Curiosity leaves the landing area. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity leaves the landing area. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A landing ellipse is the projected landing area of a spacecraft. Quite a bit goes into how accurately a spacecraft can land, various things can change the landing spot like: flight angle on the way down, how much drag the atmosphere imparts and velocity and mass of the craft etc. Scientists can run simulations changing these parameters and come up with a landing ellipse out of the plotted points.

The ellipse for Curiostiy is shown in the image as a blue line and you can see the rover has crossed the line. The image from the MRO even shows the tracks – you might need to click the image to see them.

The press release mentions the World Cup, happy to say both teams I picked are still in it, so far.

Here’s the story from NASA:

Curiosity Mars Rover Reaching Edge of Its Landing Ellipse

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is stepping on the boundary line. Being called offside is a good thing in this case, but don’t tell the World Cup referees!

The blue line added to this June 27, 2014, image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the edge of the ellipse that was charted as safe terrain for the rover’s August 2012 landing. Curiosity is visible right on the ellipse line in the lower center of the image. This 3-sigma landing ellipse is about 4 miles long and 12 miles wide (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers). Curiosity reached the edge of it for the first time with a drive of about 269 feet (82 meters) earlier that day.
OK, I don’t hear any cheering yet. You must be wondering, “What the heck is a 3-sigma landing ellipse?” It is a statistical prediction made prior to landing to determine how far from a targeted center point the rover might land, given uncertainties such as the atmospheric conditions on landing day. The “3-sigma” part means three standard deviations, so the rover was very, very likely (to about the 99.9-percent level) to land somewhere inside this ellipse. Such 3-sigma ellipses get a lot of scrutiny during landing-site selection because we don’t want anything dangerous for a landing — such as boulders of cliffs — inside the ellipse.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission did not try to land Curiosity right at the base of Mount Sharp, where the most interesting terrains lay, as seen from orbit. To do so would have put unsafe slopes within the landing ellipse. Instead, the rover spent almost exactly one Martian year (687 Earth days) roving and exploring before arriving at the edge of the ellipse.
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A carapace on Mars and the spectra observed from a laser exam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

A carapace on Mars and the spectra observed from a laser exam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

This image from the rover Curiosity is a high-resolution black-and-white from the ChemCam remote micro-imager and a color image provided by the Mastcam. The image show a rock “shell” (not drilled) with laser targets shown as colored circles and below is the chemical composition produced from the laser (spectrographic) examination. The feature is called “Winnipesaukee”.

The laser did the examination from three meters away which is pretty amazing. How was the structure formed? The answer to that question is difficult to answer, but there are some theories.

Check out the results from the spectrographic  exam and the theories how such a feature could occur.

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Curiosity Posts a Selfie

Curiousity takes a selfie. Click for larger.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiousity takes a selfie. Click for larger.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MHLI) at the end of its arm to take dozens of images of itself (selfies). The images were taken in April and May (2014) while the rover was doing science at the Windjana drilling site.

Winjana is inside a science waypoint called “The Kimberley” and was chosen were sandstone layers with varying exposure to the Martian wind which causes erosion. A great spot for science samples.

What you don’t see in the image is the rover arm. What you can see are the holes drilled by by Curiosity’s drill out in front of the rover. You can spot them left of center and down a little, look for the gray spots. We can see dust accumulating on the rover, not too bad yet.

See this links to more images and details at the NASA site.

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A Curious Mercury Transit

A gif of the Mercury transit from Mars. Image via JPL

The Mars Science Laboratory we know as Curiosity recently witnessed a transit of Mercury. We can see the transit captured by the Curiosity Mast cam. This is the first solar transit of a planet viewed from another planet.

Mercury appears to be a faint dot in the images, faint because the planet takes up only about 16 percent of a pixel from such a distance. The two large dots are sun spots, those two spots are each about the size of Earth.

The next Mercury transit visible from Earth will occur on 09 May 2016. From Mars the transits occur more frequently. From Mars: the next Mercury transit will be in April 2015, A Venus transit won’t occur until 2030, and an Earth transit is way out there on the calendar – November 2084.

Note:  I am posting this from a Wifi hotspot because my internet provider is failing me.  I will try to post Wednesday but if you don’t hear from me you will know my connection is still down.  Hopefully not.

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