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Mars rover sends new images home

Aug. 6, 2012
Courtesy of JPL
and World Science staff

A­bout two hours af­ter land­ing on Mars Sun­day night and beam­ing back its first im­age, NASA’s Cu­ri­os­ity rov­er trans­mit­ted a higher-res­o­lu­tion im­age of its new Mar­tian home, Gale Crat­er, agen­cy of­fi­cials said.

Mis­sion Con­trol at NASA’s Je­t Pro­pul­sion Lab­o­r­a­to­ry in Pas­a­de­na, Calif., re­ceived the im­age, tak­en by one of the ve­hi­cle’s low­er-fidel­ity, black-and-white Haz­ard Avoid­ance Cam­er­as, or Haz­cams.

The black-and-white, 512 by 512 pix­el im­age was tak­en by Cu­ri­os­ity’s rear-left Haz­cam.

One of the first im­ages tak­en by NA­SA's Cu­ri­os­i­ty rov­er, which land­ed on Mars the eve­ning of Aug. 5 PDT (morn­ing of Aug. 6 EDT). It was tak­en through a "fisheye" wide-an­gle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cam­er­as on the left-rear side of the rov­er. The im­age is one-half of full res­o­lu­tion. The clear dust cov­er that pro­tected the cam­era dur­ing land­ing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that re­leased the dust cov­er can be seen at the bot­tom right, near the rov­er's wheel. On the top left, part of the rov­er's pow­er sup­ply is vis­i­ble. Some dust ap­pears on the lens even with the dust cov­er off. The cam­er­as are look­ing di­rect­ly in­to the sun, so the top of the im­age is sat­u­rat­ed. Look­ing straight in­to the sun does not harm the cam­er­as. The lines across the top are an ar­ti­fact called "bloom­ing" that oc­curs in the cam­er­a's de­tec­tor be­cause of the sat­u­ra­tion. As planned, the rov­er's ear­ly en­gi­neer­ing im­ages are low­er res­o­lu­tion. Larg­er col­or im­ages from oth­er cam­er­as are ex­pected lat­er in the week when the rov­er's mast, car­ry­ing high-res­o­lu­tion cam­er­as, is de­ployed. (Im­age cred­it: NA­SA/JPL-Caltech)


“Cu­ri­os­ity’s land­ing site is be­gin­ning to come in­to fo­cus,” said John Grot­zing­er, proj­ect man­ag­er of NASA’s Mars Sci­ence Lab­o­r­a­to­ry mis­sion, at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy in Pas­a­de­na. “In the im­age, we are look­ing to the north­west. What you see on the ho­ri­zon is the rim of Gale Crat­er. In the fore­ground, you can see a grav­el field. The ques­tion is, where does this grav­el come from? It is the first of what will be many sci­en­tif­ic ques­tions to come from our new home on Mars.”

While the im­age is twice as big in pix­el size as the first im­ages beamed down from the rov­er, they are only half the size of full-res­o­lu­tion Haz­cam im­ages. Dur­ing fu­ture mis­sion opera­t­ions, these im­ages are to be used by the mis­sion’s nav­i­ga­tors and rov­er drivers to help plan the ve­hi­cle’s next drive. Oth­er cam­er­as aboard Cu­ri­os­ity, with col­or ca­pa­bil­ity and much high­er res­o­lu­tion, are ex­pected to be sent back to Earth over the next sev­er­al days.

Cu­ri­os­ity land­ed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a moun­tain three miles (a­bout five kilo­me­ters) tall in­side Gale Crat­er, 96 miles (nearly 155 kilo­me­ters) wide. 

“The Sev­en Min­utes of Ter­ror has turned in­to the Sev­en Min­utes of Tri­umph,” said NASA As­so­ci­ate Ad­min­is­tra­tor for Sci­ence John Gruns­feld. “My im­mense joy in the suc­cess of this mis­sion is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the wom­en and men of the mis­sion’s team.”

Dur­ing a nearly two-year prime mis­sion, the rov­er will in­ves­t­i­gate wheth­er the re­gion has ev­er of­fered con­di­tions fa­vor­a­ble for mi­cro­bi­al life, in­clud­ing the chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents for life.

The car-sized rover car­ries 10 sci­ence in­stru­ments with an Earth weight of 15 times as much as the sci­ence pay­loads on the Mars rov­ers Spir­it and Op­por­tun­ity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing in­stru­ment for check­ing el­e­ment­al com­po­si­tion of rocks from a dis­tance. The rov­er will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gath­er soil and pow­dered sam­ples of rock in­te­ri­ors, then sieve and par­cel out these sam­ples in­to an­a­lyt­i­cal lab­o­r­a­to­ry in­stru­ments in­side the rov­er.

To han­dle this sci­ence toolkit, Cu­ri­os­ity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spir­it or Op­por­tun­ity. The Gale Crat­er land­ing site places the rov­er with­in driv­ing dis­tance of lay­ers of the crater’s in­te­ri­or moun­tain. Ob­serva­t­ions from or­bit have iden­ti­fied clay and sul­fate min­er­als in the low­er lay­ers, in­di­cat­ing a wet histo­ry.


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About two hours after landing on Mars Sunday night and beaming back its first image, NASA’s Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image of its new Martian home, Gale Crater, agency officials said. Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., received the image, taken by one of the vehicle’s lower-fidelity, black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras, or Hazcams. The black-and-white, 512 by 512 pixel image was taken by Curiosity’s rear-left Hazcam. “Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars.” While the image is twice as big in pixel size as the first images beamed down from the rover, they are only half the size of full-resolution Hazcam images. During future mission operations, these images are to be used by the mission’s navigators and rover drivers to help plan the vehicle’s next drive. Other cameras aboard Curiosity, with color capability and much higher resolution, are expected to be sent back to Earth over the next several days. Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles (about five kilometers) tall inside Gale Crater, 96 miles (nearly 155 kilometers) wide. “The Seven Minutes of Terror has turned into the Seven Minutes of Triumph,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science John Grunsfeld. “My immense joy in the success of this mission is matched only by overwhelming pride I feel for the women and men of the mission’s team.” During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with an Earth weight of 15 times as much as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking elemental composition of rocks from a distance. The rover will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.