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Mars Curiosity Rover
Mars Curiosity Rover
Because NASA’s Curiosity rover was too heavy to land in bouncing air bags, like its fellow rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the mission’s Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) team had to develop an innovative method of getting Curiosity down to the surface. After atmospheric entry behind its heat shield, and after deploying a parachute, a retro-rocket-powered ‘sky crane’ began a powered descent. Then, when just a few meters above the ground, the sky crane lowered Curiosity onto the surface before flying away and purposefully crashing nearby. The landing went without a hitch – despite the EDL team describing it as “seven minutes of terror” – on 6 August 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech.
NASA’s orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to image Curiosity as it descended towards the ground underneath its parachute. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/University of Arizona.
Just a day after Curiosity landed, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted Curiosity on the surface of Mars inside the 154-kilometer wide Gale Crater. The discarded back shell, parachute and heat shield can also be seen, while the sky crane lies a little farther away where it crashed into the ground, scattering rays of darker dust and sand unearthed from where it hit the surface. The scene marks Curiosity’s first day on Mars – ‘sol 1’. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/University of Arizona.
Curiosity’s first 360-degree panorama captures the scene at its landing site in Gale Crater. The grayish areas on the surface in front of the rover are where the sky-crane’s retro rockets disturbed the dust on the surface. In the distance looms Curiosity’s target: the five-kilometer tall Mount Sharp. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
An oblique view of Gale Crater, which is the Curiosity rover’s landing site. The image combines data taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, as well as NASA’s Viking and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions. At the center of the crater, which formed about 3.5 billion years ago, is the towering Mount Sharp. Curiosity’s landing site is on the smooth-looking plains inside the crater, near the bottom of the picture. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS.
A close-up look at the layered sedimentary rocks that make up the foothills of Mount Sharp. Gale Crater is thought to have been filled with water once upon a time, and Mount Sharp is thought to have been built up by layered deposits, as can be seen in this image, that were laid down by the water in the lake. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Curiosity is able to scoop up patches of Martian sand and analyze its composition using the rover’s on board Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments. This patch of sand is from a region called ‘Rocknest’ and was sampled by Curiosity on sol 61, a.k.a 7 October 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
The view out across Gale Crater from the Curiosity rover’s perch at Rocknest, with the panorama being made from multiple exposures over the course of October and November 2012. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
On sol 120 (7 December 2012), Curiosity imaged this rocky outcrop that has been nicknamed ‘Shaler’ and which shows shale-like layered deposits. Some of the deposits are at angles to one another in a pattern called crossbedding, which indicates where ripples of water in the ancient lake laid down sediment. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
The Curiosity rover is able to take self-portraits by cleverly moving its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which is at the end of its robotic arm, in such a way as to photograph different parts of the rover, with the resulting images then being assembled into a mosaic. Because the camera is on the end of the arm, we therefore don’t see the arm, because the camera twists and rotates to take photographs around the arm, without it being in shot. Image: NASA/JP–Caltech/MSSS.
A US penny is attached to the deck of the Curiosity rover to act as a calibration target for the rover’s cameras. The image was taken 14 months after landing and shows how Martian dust has accumulated on the surface of the penny. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
This panoramic image, taken on sol 526 (28 January 2014) of Curiosity’s mission, is looking directly at a gap, nicknamed Dingo Gap, between two rocky scarps. The sand dune that has settled in the gap is about a meter high, and 35 meters from the rover’s position when its Mastcam imaged this panorama. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Having driven through Dingo Gap on sol 538, Curiosity looked backwards to photograph its own wheel tracks imprinted into the sand dune. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
This sandstone rock encountered by Curiosity on Mars has been nicknamed ‘Windjana’. Curiosity fired a laser at the 60cm-diameter rock, vaporizing a small patch of its surface. This allowed Curiosity’s ChemCam instrument to spectroscopically analyze the vapor coming off the rock. ChemCam found traces of manganese-oxide minerals. The presence of oxidized minerals implies the existence of oxygen in the Martian atmosphere some time in the past, in order for minerals to have been chemically altered by reacting to the oxygen. This provides a hint that, a time long ago, Mars was more habitable than it is today. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Curiosity is also armed with a drill, which it can use to collect powdered samples from the interiors of rocks. The drilling leaves behind boreholes, such as this one made on the Windjana rock on sol 615 (29 April 2014). Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
While trundling across the floor of Gale Crater, Curiosity chanced upon this odd rock, which turned out to be an iron meteorite that had fallen from space. Nicknamed ‘Lebanon’, the meteorite is two meters across. This image is a composite view – the circular frames in the middle were taken by Curiosity’s Remote Micro-Imager, which show angular-shaped holes and depressions on the surface of the meteorite. One explanation is that the holes formed as a result of the erosion of less dense sections of meteorite rock. Another possible explanation is that they contained olivine crystals, which are found in a rare type of meteorite called a pallasite. Pallasites are thought to have formed near the cores of protoplanets, before the protoplanets themselves were smashed apart through impacts. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Looking to the south from a location known as the Kimberley Waypoint within Gale Crater, Curiosity views a series of fractured sandstone beds. The beds appear to grow taller the further south the rover looks, suggesting a progressive build up of sediment towards Mount Sharp. It is thought that the sandstone beds were formed at river deltas, where the river current deposited sediment to form the cracked rocks that Curiosity sees today, billions of years later. Curiosity was 1.6-kilometers from the base of the mountain when it took this image on sol 580 (25 March 2014). Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
This simulated view shows how Gale Crater may have appeared over three billion years ago, when Mars’ atmosphere was thicker, its climate was warmer and the atmospheric pressure was sufficient to allow liquid water to exist on the surface and fill the crater. Curiosity discovered hard evidence for this water in the form of water-weathered minerals found in the composition of the crater floor. Organic molecules have also been found by Curiosity, suggesting that Gale Crater had the potential to be a habitat for life long ago. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech.
More evidence that Gale Crater was once home to a lake comes in the form of the pattern on the side of this rock, which has been nicknamed ‘Whale Rock’. The pattern of the rock is that of crossbedding, produced by ripples as water flowed through a river delta and into the lake, spreading out across the lake floor before slowing and depositing sediment. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Curiosity added to a great mystery on Mars that has been confounding scientists for several years. Puzzling plumes of methane were detected in Mars’ atmosphere by the European Space agency’s Mars Express spacecraft in 2004. Methane is short-lived in Mars’ atmosphere and so it must be constantly replenished by an active process. Indeed, the methane plumes were also found to come and go with the Martian seasons. Biological processes can produce methane as a waste product, but geological processes can also give out methane and it remains unknown whether life or geology is producing it on Mars. Curiosity has detected methane in Gale Crater too, with this diagram showing the possible sources, and sinks, of methane that might exist on the red planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/SAM-GSFC/University of Michigan.
A self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover at a location nicknamed ‘Mojave’. This annotated image labels some of the landmarks in the distance, as well as Mount Sharp and the rim of Gale Crater. The self-portrait was taken on sol 868 (14 January 2015). Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
The Sun sets on Curiosity and Gale Crater ]at the end of sol 956 (15 April 2015). On Earth we have blue skies and red sunsets, while on Mars it is the opposite, with the dusky blue at sunset produced when the fine dust particles in the Martian atmosphere scatter red light more than blue light. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M University.
Welcome to Planet Curiosity! This unusual image is a stereographic projection, which wraps the horizon into a circle, with the Curiosity rover sat at the top of the ‘world’. The rover was at a location known as ‘Buckskin’, in the foothills of Mount Sharp, when it took this self-portrait on sol 1065 (5 August 2015). Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
The foothills of Mount Sharp. The rock strata in the foreground are dipping down at the base of the mountain, suggesting that is the direction in which water once flowed, and where sediments deposited in the middle of the lake were able to gradually build up to form Mount Sharp. This image was taken during sol 580. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
The Curiosity rover stands before Marias Pass, where a bed of sandstone is overlying a bank of mudstone, which is sedimentary rock formed by clays and mud in water, providing more evidence for how the watery environment over three billion years ago has shaped the environment of Gale Crater that we see today. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
Curiosity took this self -portrait while at ‘Murray Buttes’, which is near the foot of Mount Sharp. The dark mesa behind the rover is simply called ‘M12’ and is seven meters tall. Gale Crater’s distant wall can be seen on the far right horizon in this image taken on sol 1463 (17 September 2016). Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.
During the summer of 2018, the first global dust storm since 2007 hit Mars. These images show how, over the space of three days, the sky darkened above Curiosity as the atmosphere became laden with dust. The storm endured for almost three months, but Curiosity was able to continue working since its radioisotope thermoelectric generators can provide power even on the darkest days. Image credit: NASA/JPL–Caltech/MSSS.