Curiosity rover photos surprise scientists

Added by on August 28, 2012

NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently Mars on day 22 of a two year mission, sent back photos of the landscape surrounding its landing site that revealed geological features that scientists have been unaware of until now.

During the rover’s first several days on Mars it sent back photos taken using its hazard cameras, which provide black and white, low resolution images scientists use to ensure obstacles do not get in the rovers way as it travels over the martian surface.

The new photos are taken using the rovers full-color, high resolution Mast cameras that are mounted at the rover’s highest fixed point.

“The cool thing is the cameras have discovered something we were unaware of”, commented mission chief scientist John Grotzinger.

Grotzinger added, “This tink jumped out at us as being very different from what we expected.

The high resolution images are part of a larger mosaic that includes Mount Sharp, an 18,000-ft tall mountain (5.5 km or 3.4 mi). The high-resolution images show formations that are gently angled towards the rover. The photos also show the rover’s destination, located about 7 km (4.3 miles) away.

NASA published two images: a false-color image that mimics lighting conditions similar to those on earth, and a true-color (unmodified) image. Scientists say the false-color image helps them pinpoint features of interest since they appear similar to the way they would appear on earth.

Part of the mission’s objective is to extend human presence – physically through the rover, and but voice too. NASA sent the first human voice to Mars yesterday when it broadcasted a message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. NASA radioed the message to the rover via its Deep Space Network; the rover sent the message back to earth.

The message, in part, said, the “Curiosity [rover] will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future.” The full text is available at the NASA MSL site.

The rover successful completed its second test drive and scientists revealed that the rover’s tracks contain a simple encoded message. The letters JPL (for Jet Propulsion Laboratory) are encoded in Morse code on each of the rovers six wheels. Morse code codes text using a series of long and short symbols – dots and dashes.

“The morse code on the rover’s wheels helps scientists verify the rovers orientation and other important traits as show in photos of its tracks,” said a NASA scientist.

The letters JPL in morse code are .– .–. .-.. The morse code cannot be read upside down or backwards, making it possible to determine orientation using photos of tracks.

Curiosity is three weeks into a two-year mission on Mars. The rover, the largest to land on Mars, will use ten science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. NASA’s DSN is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions.