Curiosity’s Sundial Carries a Message of Hope

Article written: 21 Aug , 2012
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
by

 A recent high-definition image from Curiosity’s Mastcam shows the rover’s sundial (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While Curiosity is definitely loaded up with some of the most high-tech instruments ever made to investigate the surface of Mars, it also carries a very low-tech instrument: a sundial (aka the “MarsDial”) which can be used to determine the position of the Sun in the sky and the season on Mars just like they do here on Earth. Curiosity’s sundial also has additional color calibration tools for the rover’s Mastcam, which captured the image above on August 19 — the 13th “Sol” of the mission.

The connection between a device invented by people thousands of years ago being in use today on a robotic explorer on another planet didn’t go unnoticed by the Mars Exploration Rover team either; in addition to the words “Mars 2012” and “To Mars, To Explore” around its top bezel, Curiosity’s sundial also carries a message of history, hope and inspiration printed along its edges…

Along with line drawings and the word for “Mars” in sixteen languages, Curiosity’s sundial bears the following inscription:

“For millennia, Mars has stimulated our imaginations. First, we saw Mars as a wandering star, a bringer of war from the abode of the gods. In recent centuries, the planet’s changing appearance in telescopes caused us to think that Mars had a climate like the Earth’s. Our first space age views revealed only a cratered, Moon-like world, but later missions showed that Mars once had abundant liquid water. Through it all, we have wondered: Has there been life on Mars? To those taking the next steps to find out, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.”

Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars at 10:31 p.m. on August 5, 2012 (PDT) was only the first (although very exciting!) step of its mission, and the first of hopefully many next steps to explore our neighboring world. Perhaps one day this message will be revisited by human explorers on Mars who may then reflect back on how it all began, and all of the innovations, hope and — well, curiosity — that made each of their rust-dusted steps possible.

Follow the sun, Curiosity!

Find out more about Curiosity’s many science and exploration instruments on JPL’s interactive 3D page here, and keep up with the latest MSL downloaded images here.

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27 Responses

  1. SJStar says

    It might sound churlish to say, but I think I want to be sick…

    • Member
      IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

      That’s because you’re a philistine!

      • SJStar says

        That’s not very nice to say IMO.

        Really, The text written on the rover is such a grotesque self indulgence that it is almost embarrassing. Whilst the sentiments might be noble they should not be plastered all over the place like graffiti on the subway walls. Anyone finding this in the future might just think &#8212 what a bunch of arrogant egotists — real Philistines in your own vernacular. If they were aliens, well they might just exterminate all humankind for that!

        Maybe it is just my bezoar rumbling in my stomach.

        Note: Philistine is with a capital “P” not lower “p”. Just saying…

      • Dampe says

        I have to say that I love the Apollo 12 plaque. Was really meaningful. ”
        WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND ” was appropriate for that time period – fear of nuclear war/weapons, tensions between the east and west.

      • TheDirtBoy says

        The sad truth of the matter is that the human race IS a bunch of arrogant egotists. Always have been and most likely always will be.

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        Well, according to the Oxford Dictionaries definition of Philistine, it is spelled with an upper-case initial letter when referring to an inhabitant of ancient Philistia, but (usually) with a lower-case initial letter when used in its general term to describe “a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them”. So there!

      • SJStar says

        Yeah. It was only changed so that the word wasn’t deemed racist.

        I am very much a supporter of culture and the sciences, which I have spoken on many occasions in UT articles. I have perfect understanding of them, so ergo, I can’t be a philistine (but your definition.) I can only therefore assume you meant it as a racist comment, as being descended from “an inhabitant of Ancient Philistia. This is not what I expect from a moderator. So there, too!

      • Member
        IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

        Racist?! Look who’s talking! According to your track record on Universe Today, the only person exhibiting racism here is you with your anti-American rants!

      • SJStar says

        America. Classed as a race. You have got to be kidding me.

        I clearly didn’t call you a racist, as I was just interpreting the illogic of your own argument with the wrongly used word ‘philistine.’

      • Member
        Aqua4U says

        Reminds me of an old idiom: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink….”

      • SJStar says

        … unless it is whiskey or beer!

      • SJStar says

        “.a person who is lacking in or hostileor smugly indifferent to cultural values,..”

        if you mean kitsch ‘American’ culture. Too right…

  2. Dampe says

    ‘We came, we saw, WE KICKED IT’S ASS’ would have been much better

  3. zkank says

    Like Martians can read English…!

  4. SJStar says

    What concerns me is if these words were sanctioned by the UN or that there as consultation with other countries. What cheese me off is the usual idea that America thinks it can happily speak for us all when the truth, as Dampe states, American speak just for Americans. However, the universal messages on the Pioneer and Voyager were warranted. They are travelling into interstellar space and there is a very remote encountered other extraterrestrial intelligent. The gesture was thoughtful and proper, and spoke for all with permission.

    I have absolutely no qualms if these Americans spoke for themselves, saying where the spacecraft came from and what is doing there. Yet no. As per usual you just can’t help repeatably sticking in the knife.

    Many reading this might not be erudite enough to understand this fundamental point, but I tell you. The more I read about Curiosity mission, the less and less respect I have for the ideals of the American Republic. I suspect that the brilliant and wise founders in 1776 would not have at all approved of the current flagrant ostentation of American culture. I suspect had they known, that the Declaration of Independence would have had specific clauses against such mortifying pretentiousness.

    Charge me as a troll you might, but the views here are felt by many who do not share you seemingly blind patriotism. Sorry, you should not speak for me.

    • Zall says

      I didn’t think every time a space agency put words in to space they they had to clear it with the rest of the world. I thought it was simply a message meant to help inspire future generations. I don’t see how you can see negativity in that. I didn’t see anything in that text that spoke for anyone in particular, or wasn’t true; it recapped how people viewed Mars over history and wished future generations a safe journey exploring.

      • Other_events says

        A bit presumptuous, as it definitely does not recap how Mars has been viewed over history, except from the very myopic Eurocentric/Greek/Roman point of view, as stated in the second sentence. Many, many cultures have viewed Mars very differently than stated in this ‘recap’.

      • Zall says

        You are correct, it is not a be-all-end-all recap of how every culture in the world ever viewed Mars. However, I think if we took a vote on something as small as this every time something was sent in to space nothing would ever be accomplished. I think you are reading too much in to something so minor.

      • Other_events says

        Perhaps you are right, but when you and your culture are not included in a broad sweeping statement then it is a little tiresome, sigh…and voting is not necessary, but perhaps sensitivity might be.

      • SJStar says

        “I didn’t think every time a space agency put words in to space they they had to clear it with the rest of the world.”

        That is not the point. There seems to be a tendency to justify deeds done Americans under the pretext of “doing it for humanity” when they are really doing for other reasons like national pride or touting some kind of innate superiority to others. (There is nothing wrong with national pride except if you are shoving it down peoples throats.)

        Don’t get me wrong. Curiosity rover is an absolutely remarkable technical and engineering achievement, whose specified goals are far-reaching and whose exploration will no doubt change humankind’s understanding of Mars and our knowledge of its history.

        The articles heading is “Carries a Message of Hope.” I only question what ‘hope’ they/we are seeking. Methinks the author is more thinking of this hope in the sense of the American space program rather than the diverting or dubious pretext that it is mostly for humanity’s benefit. The latter I sincerely doubt.

      • Zall says

        @SJStar:disqus and @Other_events:disqus:

        You both have valid points. I simply felt that you were unnecessarily condemning NASA and the American people as a whole for those who do shove their nations pride down the throats of people from other countries and cultures. I think it was meant to be a positive gesture, and whoever was involved probably never thought it would be seen negatively among the International community. However, I now better understand what you mean.

      • SJStar says

        Fair enough. I do appreciate your open candour.

      • Other_events says

        Thank you. A little understanding goes a long way.

    • graffias says

      I guess if a team is going to build and launch something like this and successfully land it on another planet, they can write whatever they want on it.

  5. SJStar says

    Great point. I can’t disagree with that at all, but is this context of this article, some are more egotistic than others.

  6. SJStar says

    Can’t disagree with that at all. It is under Benjamin Franklin’s 2nd of his moral virtues of Silence..

    Speak not but what may benefit others.

    I should say that America had done really absolutely brilliant things like landing humans on the moon, which all of us alive cannot be more in awe of. Kudos of this cannot be understated, even though some Americans take this pride of this fact at little to far. [Also as Benjamin Franklin’s thirteenth moral virtues of humility. ]

  7. briansheen says

    To change the subject, The upright sundial is in fact a gnomen from the Greek – “indicator”. This form of gnomen is similar to the Babylonian time column in that it is topped by a disc or ball. A similar version is found in Cornwall UK and is now locally as a Cornish Cross.
    Incidentally in English Sun is spelt with a capital S, I note that throughout Mars is not mars.
    Roseland Observatory.

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