Curiosity's self-portrait

By Phil Plait | September 10, 2012 6:49 am

I’m on travel in the UK right now – I’m filming a part for a documentary which I’ll talk more about in a later post – but I want to make sure you get a chance to see this really quite fun self-portrait the Mars Curiosity rover took over the weekend:

[Click to narcissusenate.]

I love how it almost looks like the rover is surprised to see itself.

The picture was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera mounted on the end of the robot arm. It’s designed to look up close at specimens of rocks or whatever else the rover happens to see as it rolls across Mars. It has a transparent dust cover on it, which is why the image is a bit fuzzy. It’s covered in Mars dust!

But engineers commanded the dust cover to flip open, and then it took this picture looking straight down (again, click to embiggen). Those may just look like rocks, but they’re rocks on Mars! That alone makes them awesome. But in fact pictures like this will tell scientists back home volumes about the geology of Mars, and the history of its surface in this region.

Even just looking at how the rocks are laid out can be telling; water flowing over a rocky area redistributes rocks in certain patterns, and that can be seen right away in pictures. A lot of science can be gleaned just from a shot like this. But the rover can also drill into this surface, scoop up samples to test, or zap them with its laser to see what they’re made of. All in all, this is the little rover that could… which is actually a big rover that does.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Related Posts:

Curiosity looks Sharp
Curiosity rolls!
Now you will feel the firepower of a fully armed and operational Mars rover
Gallery – Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, MAHLI, Mars

Comments (29)

  1. Why wouldn’t the engineers flip open the cover for the self portrait?

  2. Pete Jackson
  3. Lazlo57

    Yes, but curiosity has it’s little dark secrets too.

  4. Wzrd1

    @Dotan Cohen, consider how much dust is on that dust cover. Now, consider how much dust it wouldn’t pick up when directed down, where it’s normally directed, rather than facing a potentially dust laden wind making that self-portrait.

    Of course, some of MY best self-portraits were taken with the dust cover on. 😉

  5. sebastian

    :@Dotan Cohen (#1)

    Two reasons, i guess:

    1) Flipping the cover is a mechanical thing and they are reducing the use of mechanical systems for non-scientific purposes, as those are the systems most prone to wear and failure resulting from use.
    2) Artistically – and the shot is taken solely for artistic/marketing reasons – its arguable if the covered shot with the dusty look (very Martian, after all) isn’t better than the no-cover version, or at least close.

    Combine the two, and I’d also take the shot with the cover.

  6. Chris

    They should have had a dust cover for the dust cover.

  7. Mike

    Wonder why they don’t have some kind of canister of inert gas that can be used to blow dust off the solar panels on these rovers? Is the added weight/complexity not worth the effort? Maybe they don’t want to introduce any foreign substances into the Mars environment. If that’s the case, then they probably would have done it if they could have captured some of the Martian atmosphere to do the blowing off of the dust. Again, too complex? Not necessary?


  8. Curiosity has a Red Dwarf Cat moment:

    “How’m I lookin’? Hey, I’m lookin’ good!”

  9. kevbo


    Curiosity isn’t powered by solar panels, for one. Spirit and Opportunity are, but that is because they are small enough to ‘get around’ on solar power. I suspect that adding the weight of a tank and compressor and valves etc would bump the weight up prohibitively…

    But…what about a nice set of windshield wipers…? (/sarcasm)

  10. I would have though they could have put a small compressor on the thing that would allow it to clean lenses. There’s enough atmosphere on Mars that it should be viable.

  11. Curiosity

    I’m one handsome robot 😀

  12. Bob

    This photo is a bit like the photos you often see that people take of themselves using their cell phone cameras held at arm’s length. At least this photo has a subject with a little class – and who else is there to take its picture?

  13. John

    Number Five is Alive

  14. kat wagner

    Haa, o yeah, the pareidolia thing! You know what, it looks like an old boyfriend of mine – he had red hair. Curiosity looks just like him!

  15. @John,

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one thinking about Short Circuit. “Johnny Five is Alive… On Mars!”

    (Short Circuit 3 potential plot? Johnny Five gets mistaken for a Mars rover and is sent into space. He must now find a way back home before his battery runs out.)

  16. Pete Jackson

    @6,8 Mike and kevbo: The best way to get rid of dust is to be under a Martian dust devil. But they don’t know how to summon one on command.

  17. It has indeed a very cool kinda “number 5 alive” kinda feel.
    Love it!

  18. Daniel J. Andrews

    Maybe just being paranoid and over-cautious here, but every time you tweet from London I want to tweet back just to remind you to look the opposite way when crossing the streets, especially on the corners. Most corners should have a sign painted on the ground telling you to look right (versus the normal looking left when first crossing a road).

    But when you’re a bit tired or distracted or hungry, it is easy to forget. And when those black London cabs are whipping around the corner from the opposite direction you think they’ll come, you’re going to have a London experience you either won’t ever forget….or will never remember…if you step out while looking the wrong way.

    So be careful. :)

  19. CatMom

    Will Curiousity post this to its Facebook page?

    And yes, I thought of Number Five too! Wall-E springs to mind also, but Curiousity isn’t as cute as he is.

  20. It’s obviously the (apparently slightly bizarre) way I think, but I was thinking of bicephalic twins looking at each other.

  21. Eric TF Bat

    It amuses me that every component has to have an acronym. Just the other day I was talking on my Bat Hand-Held Communicator (BHHC) with my Bat Maternal Unit (BMU) and she was telling me how her Mother Feline Quadruped Entity 3 (MFQE3) had been watching the Australia Tele-Visual Information Dissemination and Entertainment Nexus (ATVIDEN, code-name BoobTube) when pictures of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover (code-name Curiosity) came on, and he hid under the Soft Object For Arses (SOFA). How about that?

  22. This is funny. It looks like the robot has some attitude too. Its name is curiosity and as the name implies, it seems to be curious of its own self and the surroundings. It is actually sent to explore Mars to gather information about its habitability, water availability, climate and geology. Its not just some cheeky robot with some flashy camera.

  23. Matt B.

    Like a laughing Pierson’s Puppeteer.

  24. CB

    The best thing about the Short Circuit connection is that this robot does, in fact, have a laser.

    Only updated for the post-Austin Powers world, the fricken laser is on its fricken head.

  25. I love that it has a Penny, issued in 1909 attached to the camera calibration chart. A penny minted more than a hundred years ago… minted before the Titanic sank… and now it’s on Mars. That’s pretty damned cool, if you ask me.

  26. MaDeR

    I want self-portrait without dust cover. :(

  27. Sparky

    Nice selfie Curiosity!


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