Curiosity on the Move! HiRISE Spies Rover Tracks on Mars

The beginning of Curiosity’s journeys. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Yes, the Curiosity rover is on the move, evidenced by the rover tracks seen from above by the outstanding HiRISE camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. If you look closely, visible are the rover’s wheels and even the camera mast. While this image’s color has been enhanced to show the surface details better, this is still an amazing view of Curiosity’s activities, displaying the incredible resolving power of the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment.

“These are great pictures that help us see context,” said Curiosity mission manager Mike Watkins at a press conference today. “Plus they’re just amazing photos.”

The two “blue” marks (blue is, of course, false color) seen near the site where the rover landed were formed when reddish surface dust was blown away by the rover’s descent stage, revealing darker basaltic sands underneath. Similarly, the tracks appear darker where the rover’s wheels disturbed the top layer of dust.

Below is another great view showing Curiosity’s parachute and backshell in color, highlighting the color variations in the parachute, along with a map of where Curiosity has been and will be going.

Curiosity’s parachute and backshell in color. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Map of Curiosity’s travels so far. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona.

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity overlaid on the HiRISE image, showing where Curiosity has driving through the 29th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars, which equals Sept. 4, 2012 here on Earth.

The route starts at Bradbury Landing, Curiosity’s landing site. Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol numbers of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 200 meters (656 feet).

By Sol 29, Curiosity had driven at total of 358 feet (109 meters). While scientists say the rover can travel up to a hundred meters a day, the team has been putting the rover through tests of the robotic arms and other instruments.

The first area of real interest that the team wants to study is the Glenelg area, farther east. The science team said the Glenelg region should provide a good target for Curiosity’s first analysis of powder collected by drilling into a rock.

How long will it take to get to Glenelg? It is about 400 meters away, and the rover is about a quarter of the way there so far.

“If you drove every day and didn’t do the context science it would take a couple of weeks to drive to Glenelg, at 30-40 meters a day,” said Matt Robinson, lead engineer for Curiosity’s robotic arm testing and operations. “But I think we will stop and do the context science. My guess is it will be a few weeks before we get to Glenelg.

The drive to Mt. Sharp, which is about 8 km away, will take much longer, months, maybe even a year.

“If we use our full driving mode and do up to one hundred meters a day, and not stop, it would take about 3 months,” said Robinson, “but we might only be driving for one-half to one-third of the time, it depends on how interesting the terrain is along the way.”

This scene shows the surroundings of the location where NASA Mars rover Curiosity arrived on the 29th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (Sept. 4, 2012). It is a mosaic of images taken by Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) following the Sol 29 drive of 100 feet (30.5 meters). Tracks from the drive are visible in the image. For scale, Curiosity leaves parallel tracks about 9 feet (2.7 meters) apart. At this location on Sol 30, Curiosity began a series of activities to test and characterize the rover’s robotic arm and the tools on the arm.

The panorama is centered to the north-northeast, with south-southwest at both ends.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The view of Curiosity’s surroundings is fascinating to both Mars enthusiasts and the scienctists.
Joy Crisp, the deputy project scientist for the mission said two main things have intrigued her. “One is the Mastcam imaging of Mt. Sharp, seeing structures and layers. The other is the amazing rock textures. Some rocks have light-toned grains mixed in a dark matrix. We need to examine rocks like those more thoroughly.”

“That’s what’s been exciting, to see things we haven’t seen before on Mars,” Crisp added.

See more info and larger versions of these images at this NASA webpage.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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