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Sweeping Panoramic Vista of Mount Sharp and Gale Crater from Curiosity

Image Caption: Panoramic Vista of Mount Sharp (at right) and Gale Crater from NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Curiosity will eventually climb 3.4 mile high Mount Sharp in search of hydrated minerals. This colorized panoramic mosaic shows more than half of the landing site surrounding Curiosity in the distance to the visible peak of Mount Sharp and a portion of the stowed robotic arm (at left) and the shadow of the camera mast (center) in the foreground. The mosaic was assembled from new navigation camera (Navcam) images snapped by Curiosity on Sol 2 and Sol 12 and colorized based on Mastcam imagery from Curiosity. Image stitching and processing by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo. See black and white version below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

At last the Curiosity mega rover is beaming back the first higher resolution panoramic images that many of us have longed to see – a complete view to the visible summit of towering Mount Sharp, the mountain she will scale, surrounded by the sweeping vistas of the tall eroded rim of Gale Crater, her touchdown site barely 2 weeks ago.

See our panoramic mosaics above and below incorporating the best available raw images to date. Curiosity’s stowed robotic arm and the shadow cast by the camera mast are visible in the foreground.

The new images from Curiosity’s mast mounted navigation cameras (Navcam) show the huge mountains peak to as far up as the rover can see from her vantage point some 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the base of the 18,000 foot (5.5 km) high Mount Sharp which is taller than Mount Rainier, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States.

By stitching together the newly received full resolution Navcam images from Sols 2 and 12, we (Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo) have created a panoramic mosaic showing the breathtaking expanse to the top of Mount Sharp combined with the perspective of Gale Crater from the rover’s eye view on the crater’s gravelly surface.

Image Caption: Panoramic Vista of Mount Sharp (at right) and Gale Crater from NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Curiosity will eventually climb 3.4 mile high Mount Sharp in search of hydrated minerals. This panoramic mosaic shows more than half of the landing site surrounding Curiosity in the distance to the peak of Mount Sharp and a portion of the stowed robotic arm (at left) and the shadow of the camera mast (center) in the foreground. The mosaic was assembled from new navigation camera (Navcam) images snapped by Curiosity on Sol 2 and Sol 12. Image stitching and processing by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – www.kenkremer.com

In coming weeks, Curiosity will take aim at Mount Sharp with the pair of high resolution Mastcam cameras (34 mm and 100) mounted on the rover’s mast and eventually provide much clearer images to the peak resulting in the most spectacular pictures imaginable of the mysterious mountain that holds the mother lode of hydrated mineral deposits that the robot was sent to investigate by NASA. So far the Mastcam cameras have only imaged the lower reaches of Mount Sharp.

The nuclear powered, car sized Curiosity rover was specifically engineered to accomplish a pinpoint landing inside the 96 mile (154 km) wide Gale Crater beside Mount Sharp so she could scale the mountain and take soil and rock samples of the clays and hydrated sulfated minerals that scientists believe formed in liquid water that flowed billions of years ago.

Mount Sharp is a gigantic mound that covers the entire central portion of Gale Crater and learning how it formed is one of the many mysteries researchers seek to unveil with the highly sophisticated 1 ton robot.

John Grotzinger, the project scientist for NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) rover, says that the hydrated minerals are all located in about the first 400 meters or so of Mount Sharp’s vertical elevation, based on spectral data collected by NASA and ESA spacecraft orbiting Mars. He says Curiosity will spend about a year traversing and investigating targets on the crater floor before reaching the foothills of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity will eventually spend years climbing Mount Sharp in the valleys between the 1 to 3 story tall mesas and buttes at the giant mountain’s base and lower elevations in search of sedimentary layers of the clay and hydrated sulfate mineral deposits.

The powerful ChemCam laser that Curiosity successfully test fired today will be absolutely key to finding the best targets for detailed analysis by her 10 state of the art science instruments.

The mission goal is to ascertain whether the Red Planet was ever capable of supporting microbial life, past or present and to search for the signs of life in the form of organic molecules during the 2 year primary mission phase.

Ken Kremer

Image Caption: Gale Crater and Mount Sharp from orbit with Curiosity landing site ellipse

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dampe August 20, 2012, 8:24 AM

    That photo of the Gale Crater looks almost like satellite views of Australia.

  • Mean_deviatioN August 20, 2012, 1:10 PM

    Mount Sharp or Aeolis Mons?
    Here, not even an a.k.a.! Coup d’etat?
    This is important, as repeated deliberate misinformation will eventually result in accepting incorrect information as factual. I am is reminded of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for the deliberate falsification of historical events. Sadly, report it often enough, and anything becomes accepted as true.
    How hard is it to be accurate?
    From the horse’s mouth: “Mount Sharp is only an informal name,” says Guy Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory”. After all, “the International Astronomical Union (IAU) selected ‘Aeolis Mons’ as the name for the mountain”. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2012/08/mount-sharp-on-mars-at-odds-with-official-name/1#.UC8dCV_6csh

    • Torbjörn Larsson August 20, 2012, 3:16 PM

      Great catch, but you made it already on the older threads.

      And Mount Sharp is an informal name whose use no one can or should control but many have pointed out the use of, hardly any deliberate misinformation after the initial annoyance that the IAU formal name was somehow forgotten.

      Personally I prefer the formal names, there is usually a good reason such as context. Here the context is other martian use as a “mons” (med. “an anatomical prominence or slight elevation above the general level of the surface”), not a “mountain” or “mount”.

      The problem with overuse of prescriptionist based terminology on the other hand is easy to see. Shootist noted on the previous thread (the one I link to in my other comment): “Referring to Aeolis Mons as ‘Mt. Sharp’ is rather like continuing to call Pluto a planet, Ceres an asteroid and Andromeda (M-31) a nebula.”

      Now there is a crackpot that pops in most every time it is pointed out that Pluto (like Ceres once, it isn’t unprecedented) lost its planethood status and claims it hasn’t and that it is the end of truth (or at least about the truth of planets).

      Would anyone else be willing to end up as that sad nut case? I think not.

      • Other_events August 21, 2012, 2:43 AM

        I’d rather be classified as a crackpot or a sad nut case than someone
        who calls someone a crackpot or a sad nut case. Where do you get off
        having the gall to do that? A different opinion or view and the Minister
        of Truth steps in! I wish I was as superior as you, but then, I feel
        pretty good about myself and don’t have the need to put others down, especially with no provocation.
        Would anyone else be willing to end up as sad a case as Torbjörn Larsson? I hope not.

        • Torbjörn Larsson August 21, 2012, 3:38 PM

          I didn’t call you a crackpot. I was pointing out that you run the risk.

          These public service messages were free of charge.

          • Other_events August 22, 2012, 7:18 AM

            Thank you for your response.

            Perhaps you can enlighten me on a seeming discrepancy?

            In using the IAU as the basis for the disparaging “Pluto-is-a-planet crackpot” remark, can we not apply the same logic, as the IAU again are the authority here, to the “i-don’t-care!-it’s-called-Mont-Sharp crackpots”? and point out that they, too, are wrong?

            By the way, I couldn’t agree more with your last statement: “Trying to be helpful isn’t always well received, there are no guarantees.” Works both ways, doesn’t it?

  • Shootist August 20, 2012, 1:26 PM

    I think we need a current scientific essay about The Great Nebula in Andromeda.

  • Torbjörn Larsson August 20, 2012, 3:01 PM

    Finally a shot that looks Sharp!

    The central mound formation will likely take some years to suss out, seeing how long it will take for Curiosity to move her radioactively hot ass there. (I hear NASA finally gave in to the old tradition to refer to vessels as ‘she’.)

    No doubt there is a buried impact central peak that may have contributed to the durability of the now isolated mound. Many martian craters like this are, or have been, completely filled and then weathered out and sculpted by aeolian processes.

    As for the sedimentary processes that helped fill the craters, I am intrigued by the suggestion that many martian sedimentary rocks can be a result of very infrequent snow melts coupled to Mars’ chaotic spin-orbit characteristics.

    “What do these large variations in orbital parameters mean for the climate of Mars? One of the biggest changes is the location of ice; currently the ice on Mars resides in ice caps at the poles (as on Earth). However, if the rotation axis of Mars was once highly tilted (greater than about 40 degrees), the ice at the poles would no longer be stable; it would actually sublimate into the atmosphere. Counterintuitively, at these high obliquity angles, the ice actually forms most stably around the equator.”

    “If these conditions are satisfied, liquid water can melt on the surface. This “snowmelt” can deposit material, over time forming sedimentary rocks. Order of magnitude calculations show that this process could create a significant enough layer to explain the rover observations.”

    If we look at the correlation between the snow stability and melting potential, the rover areas figures prominently, and they were chosen because they displayed interesting sedimentary formations.

    Very little snow melt is necessary: “These requirements for melting are satisfied by 0.01-20% of the probability distribution of Mars’ past spin-orbit parameters.” [From the abstract.]

    This means that very infrequent episodes of surface habitability has been present. But in best case, the sediments would have been deposited in both a habitable and inhabited environment.

    a complete view to the summit of towering Mount Sharp

    I believe Ken Kremer and Stuart Atkinson will have to duke it out: is the summit visible or not?

    “But as Stu points out on his new and wonderful blog “The Gale Gazette,” while we can now see the full northern face of the mountain, we’re not actually seeing all of Mt. Sharp nor the highest peak. “This isn’t the summit at all. Far from it,” Stu writes.

    The actual summit is hidden by the highest point visible to Curiosity, and is just the ‘front’ of Mt Sharp as seen from Curiosity’s landing site.”

    Planet Wars, The Perspective Menace.

  • Mike August 20, 2012, 5:07 PM

    18,000 feet is tall. That is 2,250 eight foot ceilings in your house.

  • Aqua4U August 20, 2012, 11:12 PM

    Inch by inch, step by step – closer and closer to Thee… mon Ms. Aeolis Mons, (aka Mt. Sharp) This Itchy Monkey anxiously awaits the ominous that will no doubt continue daily! GO Curiosity! You have a strong legacy to follow.. your brethren, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity have set the ‘bar’ quite high.. we expect only the best!

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