Wow — what a view! This image, released today, is a high-resolution shot of the Curiosity rover’s ultimate goal: the stratified flanks of Gale Crater’s 3.4-mile (5.5-km) high central peak, Mount Sharp. The image was taken with Curiosity’s 100mm telephoto Mastcam as a calibration test… if views like this are what we can expect from the MSL mission, all I can say is (and I’ve said it before) GO CURIOSITY!
“This is an area on Mount Sharp where Curiosity will go,” said Mastcam principal investigator Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems. “Those layers are our ultimate objective. The dark dune field is between us and those layers. In front of the dark sand you see redder sand, with a different composition suggested by its different color. The rocks in the foreground show diversity — some rounded, some angular, with different histories. This is a very rich geological site to look at and eventually to drive through.”
The gravel-strewn region in the foreground is Curiosity’s immediate landing area. Then the ground dips into a low depression called a swale, then rises up again to the edge of a crater that’s rimmed with larger rocks. Quite a bit beyond that (about 2.2 miles/3.7 km away) are fields of dunes composed of darker material, and then the hummocky base of Mount Sharp itself begins to rise up about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) in the distance.
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The topmost ridges of Mount Sharp visible above are actually 10 miles (16.2 km) away.
A crop of the full-size image shows a large rock at the foot of a knoll that’s about the same size as Curiosity (which is this big compared to a person and previous rovers):
The rocky mound just behind the boulder in that image is itself about 1,000 feet (300 meters) across and 300 feet (100 meters) high. Gale Crater isn’t a place for a faint-hearted rover!
The colors have been modified from the original image in order to help better discern landforms and differences in surface materials. Here, the images look more like what we’d see under natural Earthly lighting.
Curiosity already is returning more data from the Martian surface than have all of NASA’s earlier rovers combined.
“We have an international network of telecommunications relay orbiters bringing data back from Curiosity,” said JPL’s Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “Curiosity is boosting its data return by using a new capability for adjusting its transmission rate.”
“The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity 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.”
– NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a message transmitted to the Curiosity rover and then back to Earth, August 27, 2012