Curiosity update: Heat shield spotted!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 5:30 pm

Just a quick update: new analysis of the incredible picture from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing Curiosity parachuting to the surface of Mars has revealed a new detail: the rover’s heat shield:

Very cool! But it gets better: given when this shot was taken, and the lack of disturbed dust under the shield, it’s thought that this shows the heat shield still falling to the surface! It’s an action shot! The heat shield was the blunt end of the spacecraft that protected the rover from the heat of atmospheric entry, and was ejected about a minute and a half before landing. It would’ve hit the surface seconds after this shot was taken.

As I write this (23:30 UTC) I’m watching the press conference, and they’re showing video of the descent as seen by the rover itself, and it’s amazing! I’m sure this will be available soon, and when it is I’ll post it. [UPDATE (August 7, 00:15 UTC): The video has been released, and here’s my post about it!]

Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures

Comments (19)

  1. Brian Gregory

    Yes, this just keeps getting cooler!

  2. John


    Can’t wait to see the descent images.

  3. Joseph G

    Heh, I was just rushing back to the MRO image comment thread to post about this! Is that cool or what?
    (Well, to be honest, in the picture it may still be rather warm from that high-speed atmospheric interface, but you know what I mean) :)
    I can’t wait for that video! I assume made of frames from the MARDI – yet another awesomesauce innovation. IMHO, in addition to mapping the landing area and navigation, another reason that future rovers should all have something like the MARDI is for plain old public media appeal. Those are the sort of shots that grab attention. Not that the whole mission isn’t flipping amazing, but I’m thinking of ways of getting those people excited who aren’t currently space enthusiasts. I’m actually amazed at the number of people to whom I’ve brought up the Curiosity/MSL landing who have said “The what now? What’s a Curiosity?” or something to that effect.

  4. Jamicat

    What?… No HD video straight to Iphone?

    Science = suxor. -.-

  5. Ashar

    Vid of the decent by the rover itself! whhoooaaa was hoping for that! ūüėÄ

  6. Fabio

    JPL has already released the video on YouTube

  7. Wonder if they will find the “skycrane” wreckage at some point in the two years of wandering around Mars?

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    Whoah! ūüėģ

    And I thought that *first* image of the descending Curiosity caught swinging in its parachute on the way to Gale crater was something! 8)

    Stunning. Jaw dropping and breath-taking stuff here. Cheers! ūüėÄ

    (Wonders how long before we see a colour version of this too?)

  9. Joseph G

    Ok, NOW they’re just showing off ūüėČ

  10. Joseph G

    oops double post

  11. Ross Marsden

    Wait a minute!
    Could someone explain the object in the square enlarged section?
    Explain in terms of the assumed shape and form of the object, and the direction the light is coming from?
    It can only be concave with that lighting/shading. Compare with the convex top of the parachute.
    It’s the impact crater… surely.
    What do you reckon, really, Phil?

  12. Andrei

    @Ross Marsden
    The heatshield is a conycal structure and during descent, due to atmospheric drag, it will, for sure, fall with the tip pointing downwards. This means that, looking from above, it will appear as a concave structure. So no, it’s not an impact crater but the heatshield during its free-fall.

  13. Incredible pics.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Hot diggity shield!

  15. Joseph G

    Not sure where to find it, but this morning on TV they showed another HiRISE image showing the rover, the heat shield, the parachute and backshell, and the charred smear that’s what’s left of the skycrane :)

  16. George Martin

    Assuming this gets out of moderation, you can find it here.

    At today’s science briefing, this was dubbed the crime scene photo. This was taken at a poor viewing angle for the MRO. They expect to be able to get a better image in a few days when the MRO is closer to being overhead.

    Man we’re scattering a lot of liter on Mars!

  17. reidh

    tremendous. The telemetry and photometry and remote sensing people are really good. Imagine! that is from what millions? billions of kilometers away. Clear as day, that’s a parachute etc.! I wish that Google earth had that kind of resolution! But to call that rover “Curiousity” is LAME. It should have been named the Lewis and Clark rover.


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