Sunday, August 12, 2012

Martian surface from Curiosity

by Salman Hameed

It is thrilling to see images of another planet - but surface images takes the excitement to a new level. I really hope that that the successful Mars landing gives a jolt to the idea of human space exploration (I know...I know, unmanned vehicles also have a good rationale, but doesn't compare with humans on another planet). By the way, here is my chat about the Mars rover with Monte Belmonte on the fantastic Northampton station, WRSI - The  River,  and on the Bill Newman Show (last 25 minutes of the show) on WHMP.

But check out these early images from Curiosity. The first one is of the wall of Gale crater - the place where Curiosity has landed:

Oh - so hazy and dusty. If humans were on Mars, they would have decided to stay inside their biodome. Here is the description of the image:

This image of the crater wall is north of the landing site, or behind the rover. Here, a network of valleys believed to have formed by water erosion enters Gale Crater from the outside. This is the first view scientists have had of a fluvial system - one relating to a river or stream -- from the surface of Mars. Known and studied since the 1970s beginning with NASA's Viking missions, such networks date from a period in Martian history when water flowed freely across the surface. The main channel deposit seen here resembles a dirt road ascending into the mountains, which are actually the north wall and rim of Gale Crater.
Although Curiosity is about 11 miles (18 kilometers) away from this area and the view is obscured somewhat by dust and haze, the image provides new insights into the style of sediment transport within this system. Curiosity has no current plans to visit this valley system, since the primary objective of the rover is south of the landing site. But images taken later and with the 100-millimeter Mastcam are likely to allow scientists to study the area in significantly more detail.

And here is a closeup of the surface right next to Curiosity. It looks just like the Earth, except for the rectangular boxes and arrows...

And here is the description of the image: 
With the loose debris blasted away by the rockets, details of the underlying materials are clearly seen. Of particular note is a well-defined, topmost layer that contains fragments of rock embedded in a matix of finer material. Shown in the inset in the figure are pebbles up to 1.25 inches (about 3 centimeters) across (upper two arrows) and a larger clast 4 inches (11.5 centimeters) long protruding up by about 2 inches (10 centimeters) from the layer in which it is embedded. Clast-rich sedimentary layers can form in a number of ways. Their mechanisms of formation can be distinguished by the size, shape, surface textures and positioning with respect to each other of the fragments in the layers. 
Of course, learn more about the latest images and the status of the mission at the JPL Curiosity website


Ali said...

Salman, you should have alook at this link. Its absolutely breathtaking. Makes you feel you are standing on Mars and observing the horizon form all 360 degrees.

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks - this is very cool! This is from Opportunity - and my guess is that there will be a similar one for Curiosity soon (there is already a 360 panorama from its current position).

Anonymous said...

Looks like Atacama desert