Categories: Curiosity

Say Ahhh to Mars

Take a deep breath because this new panorama from Mars enthusiast Stu Atkinson will take it away.

“Anyway, a whole bunch of these came down, like I said, and to my delight they all linked up to form a big, biiiiiiiig panoramic mosaic,” said Stu on his blog “The Gale Gazette.” “And here it is. Obviously you’ll need to click on it to enlarge it… and I’ll warn you, it’s a big image, you can kiss the next few minutes goodbye because you’ll be panning around it for a while…”

Zoom in and you can see actual rocks. Click that little button at the right of the toolbar and Mars will take over your screen.

So far, Curiosity has rolled across a barely dusty plain in Gale Crater. Here’s a look of things to come. In black-and-white image from Curiosity, there appear to be big dunes to cross to get to the foothills of Aeolis Mons, or Mount Sharp.

A black-and-white but still breathtaking view of the dusty terrain between Curiosity’s current location and the foothills of Aeolis Mons, or Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL/Stu Atkinson

Curiosity has nearly finished robotic arm tests. Once complete, the rover will be able to touch and examine its first Mars rock.

“We’re about to drive some more and try to find the right rock to begin doing contact science with the arm,” said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, in a press release.

This image from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the open inlet where powered rock and soil samples will be funneled down for analysis. It was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity’s 36th Martian day, or sol, of operations on Mars (Sept. 11, 2012). MAHLI was about 8 inches (20 centimeters) away from the mouth of the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument when it took the picture. The entrance of the funnel is about 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) in diameter. The mesh screen is about 2.3 inches (5.9 centimeters) deep. The mesh size is 0.04 inches (1 millimeter). Once the samples have gone down the funnel, CheMin will be shooting X-rays at the samples to identify and quantify the minerals.

Engineers and scientists use images like these to check out Curiosity’s instruments. This image is a composite of eight MAHLI pictures acquired at different focus positions and merged onboard the instrument before transmission to Earth; this is the first time the MAHLI performed this technique since arriving at Curiosity’s field site inside Gale Crater. The image also shows angular and rounded pebbles and sand that were deposited on the rover deck during landing on Aug. 5, 2012 PDT (Aug. 6, 2012 EDT).

Two science instruments, a camera called Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, that can take close-up color images and a tool called Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) that can determine the elemental composition of a rock, also have passed tests. The instruments are mounted on a turret at the end of the robotic arm and can be placed in contact with target rocks. The adjustable focus MAHLI camera produced images this week of objects near and far; of the underbelly of Curiosity, across inlet ports and a penny that serves as a calibration target on the rover.

This close-up image shows tiny grains of Martian sand that settled on the penny that serves as a calibration target on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The larger grain under Abraham Lincoln’s ear is about 0.2 millimeters across. The grains are classified as fine to very fine sand.

The Mars Hand Lens Imagery (MAHLI) on the Curiosity rover taken by the Mast Camera on the 32nd Martian day, or sol, of operations on the surface. Engineers imaged MAHLI to inspect the dust cover and to ensure that the tool’s LED lights are functional. Scientists enhanced the image to show the scene as it would appear under Earth’s lighting conditions. This helps in analyzing the background terrain.

Check out more images from the Mars Science Laboratory teleconference.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

John Williams

John Williams is owner of TerraZoom, a Colorado-based web development shop specializing in web mapping and online image zooms. He also writes the award-winning blog, StarryCritters, an interactive site devoted to looking at images from NASA's Great Observatories and other sources in a different way. A long-time science writer and space enthusiast, he created award-winning Hubble Star Cards. Use coupon code UNIVERSE to Hold the Universe in your hands. Follow John on Twitter @terrazoom.

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