See NASA’s Curiosity Rover Simultaneously from Orbit and Red Planet’s Surface Climbing Mount Sharp

NASA’s Curiosity rover as seen simultaneously on Mars surface and from orbit on Sol 1717, June 5, 2017. The robot snapped this self portrait mosaic view while approaching Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater – backdropped by distant crater rim. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images and colorized. Inset shows overhead orbital view of Curiosity (blue feature) amid rocky mountainside terrain taken the same day by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

You can catch a glimpse of what its like to see NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover simultaneously high overhead from orbit and trundling down low across the Red Planet’s rocky surface as she climbs the breathtaking terrain of Mount Sharp – as seen in new images from NASA we have stitched together into a mosaic view showing the perspective views; see above.

Earlier this month on June 5, researchers commanded NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to image the car sized Curiosity rover from Mars orbit using the spacecrafts onboard High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) telescopic camera during Sol 1717 of her Martian expedition – see below.

HiRISE is the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars.

And as she does nearly every Sol, or Martian day, Curiosity snapped a batch of new images captured from Mars surface using her navigation camera called navcam – likewise on Sol 1717.

Since NASA just released the high resolution MRO images of Curiosity from orbit, we assembled together the navcam camera raw images taken simultaneously on June 5 (Sol 1717), in order to show the actual vista seen by the six wheeled robot from a surface perspective on the same day.

The lead navcam photo mosaic shows a partial rover selfie backdropped by the distant rim of Gale Crater – and was stitched together by the imaging team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.

The feature that appears bright blue at the center of this scene is NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover amid tan rocks and dark sand on Mount Sharp, as viewed by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 5, 2017. The rover is about 10 feet long and not really as blue as it looks here. The image was taken as Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Right now NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is approaching her next science destination named “Vera Rubin Ridge” while climbing up the lower reaches of Mount Sharp, the humongous mountain that dominates the rover’s landing site inside Gale Crater.

“When the MRO image was taken, Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit,” says NASA.

“HiRISE has been imaging Curiosity about every three months, to monitor the surrounding features for changes such as dune migration or erosion.”

The MRO image has been color enhanced and shows Curiosity as a bright blue feature. It is currently traveling on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Curiosity is approximately 10 feet long and 9 feet wide (3.0 meters by 2.8 meters).

“The exaggerated color, showing differences in Mars surface materials, makes Curiosity appear bluer than it really looks. This helps make differences in Mars surface materials apparent, but does not show natural color as seen by the human eye.”

See our mosaic of “Vera Rubin Ridge” and Mount Sharp below.

Curiosity images Vera Rubin Ridge during approach backdropped by Mount Sharp. This navcam camera mosaic was stitched from raw images taken on Sol 1726, June 14, 2017 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Curiosity is making rapid progress towards the hematite-bearing location of Vera Rubin Ridge after conducting in-depth exploration of the Bagnold Dunes earlier this year.

“Vera Rubin Ridge is a high-standing unit that runs parallel to and along the eastern side of the Bagnold Dunes,” says Mark Salvatore, an MSL Participating Scientist and a faculty member at Northern Arizona University, in a new mission update.

“From orbit, Vera Rubin Ridge has been shown to exhibit signatures of hematite, an oxidized iron phase whose presence can help us to better understand the environmental conditions present when this mineral assemblage formed.”

Curiosity will use her cameras and spectrometers to elucidate the origin and nature of Vera Rubin Ridge and potential implications or role in past habitable environments.

“The rover will turn its cameras to Vera Rubin Ridge for another suite of high resolution color images, which will help to characterize any observed layers, fractures, or geologic contacts. These observations will help the science team to determine how Vera Rubin Ridge formed and its relationship to the other geologic units found within Gale Crater.”

To reach Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity is driving east-northeast around two small patches of dunes just to the north. She will then turn “southeast and towards the location identified as the safest place for Curiosity to ascend the ridge. Currently, this ridge ascent point is approximately 370 meters away.”

Curiosity rover raises robotic arm high while scouting the Bagnold Dune Field and observing dust devils inside Gale Crater on Mars on Sol 1625, Mar. 2, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic stitched from raw images and colorized. Note: Wheel tracks at right, distant crater rim in background. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rovers long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.

“Lower Mount Sharp was chosen as a destination for the Curiosity mission because the layers of the mountain offer exposures of rocks that record environmental conditions from different times in the early history of the Red Planet. Curiosity has found evidence for ancient wet environments that offered conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life,” says NASA.

NASA’s Curiosity rover explores sand dunes inside Gale Crater with Mount Sharp in view on Mars on Sol 1611, Feb. 16, 2017, in this navcam camera mosaic, stitched from raw images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

As of today, Sol 1733, June 21, 2017, Curiosity has driven over 10.29 miles (16.57 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing inside Gale Crater, and taken over 420,000 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about the upcoming SpaceX launch of BulgariaSat 1, recent SpaceX Dragon CRS-11 resupply launch to ISS, NASA missions and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events at Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:

June 22-24: “SpaceX BulgariaSat 1 launch, SpaceX CRS-11 and CRS-10 resupply launches to the ISS, Inmarsat 5 and NRO Spysat, EchoStar 23, SLS, Orion, Commercial crew capsules from Boeing and SpaceX , Heroes and Legends at KSCVC, ULA Atlas/John Glenn Cygnus launch to ISS, SBIRS GEO 3 launch, GOES-R weather satellite launch, OSIRIS-Rex, Juno at Jupiter, InSight Mars lander, SpaceX and Orbital ATK cargo missions to the ISS, ULA Delta 4 Heavy spy satellite, Curiosity and Opportunity explore Mars, Pluto and more,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Curiosity’s Traverse Map Through Sol 1717. This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 1717 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 05, 2017). The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Mars Habitability? Curiosity Rover Spots Intriguing Mineral On Red Planet

NASA’s Curiosity rover has struck hematite — an iron-oxide mineral often associated with water-soaked environments — in its first drill hole inside the huge Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) on Mars. While in this case oxidization is more important to its formation, the sample’s oxidization shows that the area had enough chemical energy to support microbes, NASA said.

Hematite is not a new discovery for Curiosity or Mars rovers generally, but what excites scientists is this confirms observations from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that spotted hematite from orbit in the Pahrump Hills, the area that Curiosity is currently roving.

“This connects us with the mineral identifications from orbit, which can now help guide our investigations as we climb the slope and test hypotheses derived from the orbital mapping,” stated John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist  at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

This is the latest in a series of finds for the rover related to habitability. In December 2013, scientists announced it found a zone (dubbed Yellowknife Bay) that was likely an ancient lakebed. But Yellowknife’s mineralogy eluded detection from orbit, likely due to dust covering the rocks.

Photo mosaic shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover in action reaching out to investigate rocks at a location called Yellowknife Bay on Sol 132, Dec 19, 2012 in search of first drilling target. The view is reminiscent of a dried up shoreline. Curiosity’s navigation camera captured the scene surrounding the rover with the arm deployed and the APXS and MAHLI science instruments on tool turret collecting microscopic imaging and X-ray spectroscopic data. The mosaic is colorized. See the full 360 degree panoramic and black & white versions below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Photo mosaic shows NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover in action reaching out to investigate rocks at a location called Yellowknife Bay on Sol 132, Dec 19, 2012, in search of first drilling target. The view is reminiscent of a dried up shoreline. Curiosity’s navigation camera captured the scene surrounding the rover with the arm deployed and the APXS and MAHLI science instruments on tool turret collecting microscopic imaging and X-ray spectroscopic data. The mosaic is colorized. See the full 360 degree panoramic and black & white versions below. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Hematite is perhaps most closely associated with spherical rocks called  “blueberries” that the Opportunity rover discovered on Mars in 2004. While Opportunity’s discovery showed clear evidence of water, the new Curiosity find is more closely associated with oxidization, NASA said.

The new find, contained in a pinch of dust analyzed in Curiosity’s internal Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument, yielded 8% and 4% magnetite. The latter mineral is one way that hematite can be created, should magnetite be placed in “oxidizing conditions”, NASA stated. Previous samples en route to Mount Sharp had concentrations only as high as 1% hematite, but more magnetite. This shows more oxidization took place in this new sample, NASA stated.

Curiosity will likely stick around Pahrump Hills for at least weeks, perhaps months, until it climbs further up the mountain. Among Mount Sharp’s many layers is one that contains so much hematite (as predicted from orbit) that NASA calls it “Hematite Ridge.”

Source: NASA

Was This Ridge Habitable? Mars Curiosity Eyes Nearby Mountain

So Curiosity has been on Mars for an Earth year and is now, slowly, making its way over to that ginormous mountain — Mount Sharp, or Aeolis Mons — in the distance. The trek is expected to take at least until mid-2014, if not longer, because the rover will make pit stops at interesting science sites along the way. But far-thinking scientists are already thinking about what areas they would like to examine when it gets there.

One of those is an area that appears to have formed in water. There’s a low ridge on the bottom of the mountain that likely includes hematite, a mineral that other Mars rovers have found. (Remember the “blueberries” spotted a few years ago?) Hematite is an iron mineral that comes to be “in association with water”, a new study reports, and could point the way to the habitable conditions Curiosity is seeking.

The rub is scientists can’t say for sure how the hematite formed until the rover is practically right next to the ridge. There are plenty of pictures from orbit, but not high-resolution enough for the team to make definitive answers.

Colors map percentages of hematite in the surface materials in Meridiani Planum on Mars from 5 percent (aqua) to 25 percent (red). Opportunity landed within the black oval.  MER scientists say the rocks there had once been drenched in water.  Credit: NASA
Colors map percentages of hematite in the surface materials in Meridiani Planum on Mars from 5 percent (aqua) to 25 percent (red). Opportunity landed within the black oval. MER scientists say the rocks there had once been drenched in water. Credit: NASA

“Two alternatives are likely: chemical precipitation within the rocks by underground water that became exposed to an oxidizing environment — or weathering by neutral to slightly acidic water,” wrote Arizona State University’s Red Planet Report. Either way, it shows the ridge likely hosted iron oxidation. Earth’s experience with this type of oxidation shows that it happens “almost exclusively” with microorganisms, but that’s not a guarantee on Mars.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images show that the ridge is about 660 feet (200 meters) wide and four miles (6.5 kilometers) long, with strata or layers in the ridge appearing to be similar to those of layers in Mount Sharp.

While Curiosity is not designed to seek life, it can ferret out details of the environment. Just a few weeks ago, for example, it uncovered pebbles that likely formed in the presence of water. Other Mars missions have also found evidence of that liquid, with perhaps some of it once arising from the subsurface. Where the water came from, and why the environment of Mars changed so much in the last few billion years, are ongoing scientific questions.

Check out more details on the study in Geology.

Source: Red Planet Report