Curiosity Sol 2 & 3 Image Roundup!

Curiosity is still doing very well on the surface of Mars, and some full resolution images have arrived back here on Earth over the past couple of days!

First there’s this overview of Curiosity and all its associated landing paraphernalia, taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HIRISE camera in orbit around the red planet – the heatshield, skycrane, parachute and backshell are all accounted for, as is Curiosity itself (labelled as “MSL” – Mars Science Laboratory). The dark patch around Curiosity itself was caused by the backblast if the skycrane’s rocket motors as it was being lowered to the ground – brighter dust was blown away, leaving darker material behind. To get a sense of scale, the skycrane is located at a distance of 650 metres from Curiosity. There are no plans to go and visit any of the wreckage, however.

Curiosity landing site (image credits: NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Curiosity’s Cameras

Before I go on, I should explain the cameras that Curiosity uses to take pictures – there are 17 of them in total, so it can be difficult to keep track of them all! The sensor mast (Curiosity’s Wall-E like “head”) containing the cameras was successfully raised on Sol 2 and seems to be working fine.

The cameras on Curiosity’s sensor mast
(image credits: NASA/JPL/Constantine Thomas (labels))

The CHEMCAM (not used yet) is the round opening at the top. This shoots a laser at distant rocks (!) – CHEMCAM’s spectrometers and telescope can then determine the composition of the rock by analysing the puff of material blown off by the laser (which is pretty darn clever, really).

The NAVCAMs are the two little cylindrical things on the left and right of the “head”, below the CHEMCAM. There are two on each side, but only one left/right pair is used at a time – the other is a backup. This allows Curiosity to take stereo images, which can be used to make 3D anaglyph images.

The MASTCAMs are the two trumpet-like things mounted below the CHEMCAM. The one with the wider opening directly below CHEMCAM is the wide angle camera, and the one on its right is the telephoto camera. These won’t be able to take stereo images because they aren’t the same kind of camera, but they’ll be taking the bulk of the high resolution images of the landscape.

There are also the front and rear HAZCAMs (there are actually eight of these, mounted on all four corners of the rover), which take low resolution images of what’s immediately in front of and behind the rover in order to avoid obstacles – we’ve already seen pictures from those that were taken shortly after Curiosity landed. MARDI is the MARs Descent Imager, which is on the bottom of Curiosity and was used to take the Descent video. Last I heard on one of the press conferences, the team were hoping to get some further use out of this camera by taking pictures of the ground directly under the rover, since some light can still get through underneath the rover. And then there’s MAHLI (MArs Hand Lens Imager), which is the hand-lens imager mounted on a robotic arm that will be used to take closeup shots of the rocks that Curiosity examines (and can also apparently be used to image more distant objects too).

If you want a more complete roundup of what these instruments (and others) do, wikipedia explains all!

OK. Now you know what’s taking all the pictures, let’s go back to the images!

Next up is the first view from the NAVCAMs. While these can be used to take 3D stereo images if they are taken in pairs (you’ll need red-blue glasses to view them – apparently comic shops may be a good place to find these!), they can of course also be viewed as individual images too – this is the first high resolution scene returned from Curiosity through the left NAVCAM, and the scenery looks pretty astounding. I love the hazy mountains of the crater rim in the distance, and the detail in all the rocks and pebbles in the foreground!:

The view from Curiosity (left NAVCAM) – Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The NAVCAMs managed to get a good look around the whole rover, and the images were stitched together to make this amazing 360° view of the rover’s surroundings. Mount Sharp (the central peak of Gale crater) is at the bottom/left of the image (the rover’s pointing in its general direction), the crater rim is visible to the right, and I think the sun’s washing out the horizon at the top of the image. I love how you can actually see the rover here (I would have expected some distortion because of the 360° view, but it looks nicely rover-shaped!) – also note the bits of gravel on the top surface of Curiosity, which were kicked up by the skycrane’s rockets as it was landing!

360 degree view around Curiosity – Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

Finally, the MASTCAM was fired up and returned this very nice colour panorama looking towards Mount Sharp. The dark streaks at the base of the mountain are sand dunes – from what I gathered from the press conferences, Curiosity is going to be heading towards them (skirting the left side in this view) once it starts moving in a couple of weeks. There are several very cool things to note here – first, this panorama is actually made up of 130 thumbnail images with a resolution of 144×144 pixels – these aren’t even full resolution images (which are 1200×1200 pixels), so the full resolution panorama will be absolutely enormous and ridiculously detailed! We’ll have to wait a few days for that to come back down though, since updating the rover’s software is a higher priority in the coming days. Second, the grey circular patches on the left and right are where the skycrane’s rockets blew away some of the dust during the landing, which means that bedrock might be exposed there! Third, that line of holes in the treads of the wheels apparently spell out “JPL” in morse code… so Curiosity will be leaving JPL’s name in its tracks in the martian dust as it travels!

Curiosity MASTCAM colour panorama (Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

As always, if you want more info, check out Emily Lakdawalla’s Planetary Society blog!

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