Mars’ Dingo Gap Seen From Orbit and the Ground

Thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the HiRISE camera, we have an orbital view of Dingo Gap, an opening between two low scarps which is spanned by a single dune. This gap and dune are visible both from the ground and from orbit. The Curiosity Mars rover has now crossed the gap and is continuing its travels toward enticing science destinations, including interesting veins and mineral fractures.

In the orbital image from HiRISE, the rover itself is not in this image as it was acquired before MSL landed. However, the imagery was likely used to help the rover team decide on the way to travel.

Below are more images of Dingo gap before and after the rover plowed its way through the sand.

The Curiosity rover looks back at the tracks it left after crossing through the Dingo Gap sand dune. Credit: NASA/JPL, Caltech. Via Doug Ellison on Twitter.
The Curiosity rover looks back at the tracks it left after crossing through the Dingo Gap sand dune. Credit: NASA/JPL, Caltech. Via Doug Ellison on Twitter.
The series of nine images making up this animation were taken by the rear Hazard-Avoidance Camera (rear Hazcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover as the rover drove over a dune spanning “Dingo Gap” on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The orbital view of Gale Crater and the Dingo Gap region. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
The orbital view of Gale Crater and the Dingo Gap region. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.
Curiosity looks back to ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune after crossing over, backdropped by Mount Sharp on Sol 535, Feb. 5, 2014.  Hazcam fisheye image linearized and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.
Curiosity looks back to ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune after crossing over, backdropped by Mount Sharp on Sol 535, Feb. 5, 2014. Hazcam fisheye image linearized and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.
Curiosity’s view to valley beyond after crossing over ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune. This photomosaic was taken after Curiosity drove over the 1 meter tall Dingo Gap sand dune and shows dramatic scenery in the valley beyond, back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. Assembled from navigation camera (navcam) raw images from Sol 535 (Feb. 6, 2104) Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity Crosses Dingo Gap Dune – Gateway to ‘Moonlight Valley’ and Mountain Destinations Beyond

Curiosity scans Moonlight Valley beyond Dingo Gap Dune.
Curiosity’s view to “Moonlight Valley” beyond after crossing over ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune. This photomosaic was taken after Curiosity drove over the 1 meter tall Dingo Gap sand dune and shows dramatic scenery in the valley beyond, back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. Assembled from navigation camera (navcam) raw images from Sol 535 (Feb. 6, 2104) Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
See below more before/after Dingo Gap imagery
Story updated[/caption]

NASA’s Curiosity mega rover has successfully crossed over the ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune- opening the gateway to the science rich targets in the “Moonlight Valley” and Martian mountain beyond.

“I’m over the moon that I’m over the dune! I successfully crossed the “Dingo Gap” sand dune on Mars,” Curiosity tweeted overnight Thursday.

“Moonlight Valley” is the name of the breathtaking new locale beyond Dingo, Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of Caltech, told Universe Today.

Curiosity drove westward over the 1 meter ( 3 foot) tall Dingo Gap dune in stellar style on Thursday, Feb. 6, on Sol 535.

Curiosity looks back to ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune after crossing over, backdropped by Mount Sharp on Sol 535, Feb. 5, 2014.  Hazcam fisheye image linearized and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.
Curiosity looks back to ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune after crossing over, backdropped by Mount Sharp on Sol 535, Feb. 5, 2014. Hazcam fisheye image linearized and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Dramatic before and after photos reveal that the rover passed over the Red Planet dune without difficulty. They also show some interesting veins and mineral fractures are visible in the vicinity just ahead.

“Moonlight Valley has got lots of veins cutting through it,” Grotzinger told me.

“We’re seeing recessive bedrock.”

The Martian dune lies between two low scarps sitting at the north and south ends.

“The rover successfully traversed the dune in Dingo Gap,” wrote science team member Ken Herkenhoff in an update.

“The data look good.”

Curiosity Crosses ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune - Looking forward and back. Credit:  NASA
Curiosity Crosses ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune – Looking forward and back on Sol 535. Hazcam camera images. Credit: NASA

Since arriving at the picturesque “Dingo Gap” sand dune about a week ago, Curiosity’s handlers had pondered whether to breach the dune as an alternate pathway into the smoother terrain of the valley beyond as a work around to avoid fields of rough rocks that have been ripping holes into the robots six aluminum wheels in recent months.

“We’re guessing it will be softer on the wheels,” Grotzinger informed me.

Before giving the go ahead to move forward, engineers took a few days to carefully assess the dune’s integrity and physical characteristics with the rovers science instruments and cameras to insure there wasn’t the potential to get irretrievably stuck in a deep sand trap.

The team even commanded Curiosity to carry out a toe dip by gently rolling the 20 inch (50 cm) diameter wheels back and forth over the crest on Tuesday, Feb. 4 to insure it was safe to mount.

They won’t take any chances with safety, recalling that rover Spirit’s demise occurred when she because mired in a hidden sand trap in 2010 from which there was ultimately no escape. She froze to death during the bitter Martin winter – more than 6 years into her 90 day mission.

Opportunity also got wedged at the seemingly endless dune field at “Purgatory Dune”, that nearly doomed her early in the now decade long trek. Engineers spent weeks on the extrication effort.

Curiosity does a “toe dip” wheel motion test at Dingo Gap sand dune on Sol 534, Feb 5, 2014 before crossing dune on Sol 535. Hazcam image linearized and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity does a “toe dip” wheel motion test at Dingo Gap sand dune on Sol 534, Feb 5, 2014 before crossing dune on Sol 535. Hazcam image linearized and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Since last summer, Curiosity has been traveling on a southwestward route to the breathtaking foothills of Mount Sharp, her ultimate science destination.

The westward route though Dingo will soon lead Curiosity to a spot dubbed “KMS-9” where the team hopes to conduct the first rock drilling operations since departing the Yellowknife Bay quadrant in July 2013, into areas of intriguing bedrock.

“At KMS-9, we see three terrain types exposed and a relatively dust-free surface,” said science team collaborator Katie Stack of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

The missions science focus has shifted to “search for that subset of habitable environments which also preserves organic carbon,” says Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

But first, with the dune now safely in the rear view mirror, the team plans a busy weekend of research activities.

A big science program using the X-Ray spectrometer and high resolution MAHLI camera on the robotic arm is already planned for this weekend.

“The arm will be deployed to investigate some interesting veins or minerals filling fractures in front of the rover,” says Herkenhoff.

“ChemCam will search for frost early on the morning of Sol 538 (Saturday), then analyze targets Collett and Mussell along the vein/fracture fill later in the day.”

Thereafter Curiosity will continue on its journey across the floor of Gale Crater, taking images and atmospheric measurements along the way to the sedimentary layers at the base of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary goal of discovering a habitable zone on Mars that could support Martian microbes if they ever existed.

And be sure to check out Curiosity’s first ever image of Earth from Mars in my new story – here.

To date Curiosity’s odometer stands at nearly 5 kilometers and she has taken over 118,000 images.

The robot has about another 5 km to go to reach Mount Sharp.

Meanwhile, NASA’s sister Opportunity rover is exploring clay mineral outcrops by the summit of Solander Point on the opposite side of Mars at the start of her 2nd Decade investigating the Red Planet’s mysteries.

And a pair of new orbiters are streaking to the Red Planet to fortify Earth’s invasion fleet- NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

You are here! As an Evening Star in the Martian Sky. This evening-sky view taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the  Earth and Earth's moon as seen on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset inside Gale Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
You are here! As an Evening Star in the Martian Sky
This evening-sky view taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity shows the Earth and Earth’s moon as seen on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap inside Gale Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
Curiosity’s View Past Tall Dune at edge of ‘Dingo Gap’  This photomosaic from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) taken at the edge of the entrance to the Dingo Gap shows a 3 foot (1 meter) tall dune and valley terrain beyond to the west, all dramatically back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. View from the rover’s current position on Sol 528 (Jan. 30, 2014). The rover team may decide soon whether Curiosity will bridge the dune gap as a smoother path to next science destination. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity’s View Past Tall Dune at edge of ‘Dingo Gap’
This photomosaic from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) taken at the edge of the entrance to the Dingo Gap shows a 3 foot (1 meter) tall dune and valley terrain beyond to the west, all dramatically back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. View from the rover’s overlook position on Sol 528 (Jan. 30, 2014). The rover team has now commanded Curiosity to bridge the dune gap as a smoother path to next science destination. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Up close view of hole in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490).  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo
Up close view of hole in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490). Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

You are Here! Curiosity’s 1st Photo of Home Planet Earth from Mars

You are here! – As an Evening Star in the Martian Sky
This evening-sky view taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity shows the Earth and Earth’s moon as seen on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap inside Gale Crater.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
See more imagery of the Earth and Moon below!
Story updated[/caption]

18 months into her mission to discover a habitable zone on the Red Planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover has at last looked back to the inhabited zone of all humanity and snapped her 1st image of all 7 Billion Earthlings living on the Home Planet.

“Look Back in Wonder… My first picture of Earth from the surface of Mars,” tweeted Curiosity today.

You are there! See yourselves in the spectacular imagery from the Red Planet’s surface at the ‘Dingo Gap’ inside Gale Crater – above and below.

Car sized Curiosity captured the evocative image of Earth as an evening star in the Martian sky just days ago on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529, some 80 minutes after sunset.

And what’s more is that the evening sky view even includes the Earth’s Moon!

Annotated evening-sky view taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the  Earth and Earth's moon - enlarged in inset - as seen on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap sand dune.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
Annotated evening-sky view taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity shows the Earth and Earth’s moon – enlarged in inset – as seen on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap sand dune. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Earth shines brilliantly as the brightest beacon in the Martian twilight sky view taken from the 1 ton rovers current location at the edge of a sand dune dubbed the ‘Dingo Gap.’

“A human observer with normal vision, if standing on Mars, could easily see Earth and the moon as two distinct, bright “evening stars,” said NASA in a statement issued today.

Curiosity’s View Past Tall Dune at edge of ‘Dingo Gap’  This photomosaic from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) taken at the edge of the entrance to the Dingo Gap shows a 3 foot (1 meter) tall dune and valley terrain beyond to the west, all dramatically back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. View from the rover’s current position on Sol 528 (Jan. 30, 2014). The rover team may decide soon whether Curiosity will bridge the dune gap as a smoother path to next science destination. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
1st Curiosity Snapshot of Earth taken from here –
Curiosity’s View Past Tall Dune at edge of ‘Dingo Gap’ sand dune
This photomosaic from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) taken at the edge of the entrance to the Dingo Gap shows a 3 foot (1 meter) tall dune and valley terrain beyond to the west, all dramatically back dropped by eroded rim of Gale Crater. View from the rover’s current position on Sol 528 (Jan. 30, 2014). The rover team may decide soon whether Curiosity will bridge the dune gap as a smoother path to next science destination.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Curiosity used both of her high resolution mast mounted color cameras to collect a series of Earth/Moon images flittering across the Martian sky.

The Earth and the Moon in this evening-sky view taken by Curiosity’s telephoto Mastcam right -eye camera  on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap. Moon’s brightness was enhanced to aid visibility. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU
The Earth and the Moon in this evening-sky view taken by Curiosity’s telephoto Mastcam right -eye camera on Jan. 31, 2014, or Sol 529 shortly after sunset at the Dingo Gap. Moon’s brightness was enhanced to aid visibility. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Processing has removed the numerous cosmic ray strikes – see raw image below.

Right now Curiosity’s handlers are pondering whether to climb over the 1 meter tall sand dune and cross into the smooth terrain of the valley beyond the ‘Dingo Gap’ – as an alternate path to minimize damaging encounters with sharp edged Martian rocks that are puncturing holes and ripping tears into the robots six wheels.

To be clear, these are not the first images of the Earth from Mars orbit or Mars surface.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit imaged Earth from the surface in March 2004, soon after landing in Gusev Crater in January 2004.

Two of NASA’s other Red Planet explorers also imaged Earth; Mars Global Surveyor in 2003 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2007.

More recently, NASA’s Cassini orbiter at Saturn spied the Earth and Moon during the Wave at Saturn event in July 2013 from a distance of 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers).

And still more images of the Earth from NASA’s Mariner 10 and Juno Jupiter orbiter in my recent planetary exploration story – here

The most famous and distant of all is the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 probe in 1990 from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away.

Meanwhile, NASA’s sister rover Opportunity is exploring clay mineral outcrops by the summit of Solander Point on the opposite side of Mars at the start of her 2nd Decade investigating the Red Planet’s mysteries.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Opportunity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Curiosity Mastcam raw image showing the Earth in the Martian twilight sky on Jan. 31, 2014 above Gale crater rim amidst numerous cosmic ray strikes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity Mastcam raw image showing the Earth in the Martian twilight sky on Jan. 31, 2014 amidst numerous cosmic ray strikes. . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity photographed You and all of humanity looking from somewhere above the eroded rim of Gale Crater -  a portion of which is seen in this photomosaic taken by the same Mastcam camera  on Feb 1, 2014, Sol 530, at the Dingo Gap sand dune.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity photographed You and all of humanity looking from somewhere above the eroded rim of Gale Crater – a portion of which is seen in this photomosaic taken by the same Mastcam camera on Feb 1, 2014, Sol 530, at the Dingo Gap sand dune. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Jan. 31, 2014 (Sol 529) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels.  Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Jan. 31, 2014 (Sol 529) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com