Mars Gets Its Close-Up   Leave a comment

Photograph by NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS)

Powered by plutonium, NASA’s one-ton, nine-foot-wide rover can cover a hundred yards in a day, rolling over large rocks on six aluminum wheels. Four cameras scan for treacherous ground ahead.

 

This is what you’d see from Curiosity’s landing site. The rover made this panorama of Gale crater with a camera perched about six feet off the ground, like human eyes. At left and right are gray blast marks left by the sky crane’s rockets as it landed the rover. In the distance lies three-mile-high Mount Sharp, where Curiosity is headed.

 

 

Site of an ancient meteor crash, Gale crater is 96 miles across. Curiosity must drive for months, crossing black sand dunes, to begin climbing Mount Sharp. Its rock layers, up to four billion years old—perhaps older than any strata on Earth—may record the fateful time when Mars dried out.

 

In late January, Curiosity prepared to drill its first hole in a Martian rock—a flat mudstone. The place is called Yellowknife Bay because it was once underwater. The rover’s percussion drill is in the turret of tools at the end of the robotic arm.

 

Curiosity landed in what turned out to be an ancient streambed. Driving away, it descended into the small depression that lies just ahead and to the left, where it spent months drilling into its first rocks. They contained chemical evidence that the place had once been not only water covered but also habitable.

 

After taking its first scoops of Martian soil, Curiosity posed for a self-portrait. Stitched together from 63 images, it shows the entire rover and even the imprints in the sand of its scoop and wheels—but not the seven-foot robotic arm that was holding the camera.

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Posted July 8, 2013 by kitokinimi in Uncategorized

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