Wheels on Mars

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2012 7:00 am

Speaking of amazing pictures from Mars, over the weekend Emily Lakdawalla tweeted about a shot from the Curiosity rover that is simply too too cool:

I love the perspective on this! [Click to hotwheelsenate – and you really should to see just how awesome this picture is.]

It was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on October 6, 2012. MAHLI is a color camera that’s mounted on the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. It provides detailed (1600 x 1200 pixel) color images, and can take close-ups to show microscopic detail of Martian rock samples.

But it can also take spectacular shots of the rover itself. You can see details on the rover wheels, including some of the dings they’ve gotten as they roll over rocks. It also gives you a sense of the size of the rover: it’s as big as a car, and those wheels in the picture are 50 cm (18 inches) in diameter! That’s about the same size as the wheels on my own car.

… and then, while thinking about all this, I remember: this is on Mars. That’s another world, a planet tens of millions of kilometers away, a nine-month trip even by rocket! And Curiosity will be there for two full Earth years, returning vast amounts of incredible data about its surroundings.

I literally get a chill down my back when I think about that. It’s so easy to get mired down worrying about the present and the future, but, quite literally, pictures like this give me hope for humanity. It’s amazing what we can do when we put our minds to it.

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


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

Comments (36)

  1. Wow. It totally looks fake. It’s so clear that it looks like a painting. Amazing.

  2. Zathras

    I need to drink my coffee….
    What’s going thru my head is the kid’s song: “The Wheels on Mars go round and around”

  3. Bob

    I know this sounds totally smart-ass, and it is, but where will Curiosity go after it has finished its two year tour of Mars?

    BTW, this is one of the best photos from the rover yet. The recent one of the “shiny object” was an incredible waste of time for the average person, as even in the extreme close-up it was difficult to tell what NASA was referring to.

    Since Mars is obviously quite a dusty place, I would like to volunteer for the mission to give the rover a good hosing off :-).

  4. Javier

    The rover will sit there for eons, it’s never coming back!

  5. Clint L

    The whole planet needs a good hosing off. It has been a long time……..

  6. Hal

    The color detail in the soil is just incredible. You can really see that it’s rust, not just vaguely red.

  7. Nigel Depledge

    Bob (3) said:

    I know this sounds totally smart-ass, and it is, but where will Curiosity go after it has finished its two year tour of Mars?

    Aw, you beat me to it! I was gonna be a smartypants about that line.

  8. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    It was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) . . .

    Is the camera known to its friends as Bob?

  9. Sam H

    Okay, all these images are great, but when will the amazing discoveries and SCIENCE start coming in?? So far we’ve had mostly shots of the surrounding landscape, a rouge piece of plastic, a solar eclipse, burning a hole in a rock, and copious amounts of rover pr0n, but the science should start coming in soon now that their testing the interior labs, right?? Reading the Opportunity mission log, it seems to have happened faster when they found themselves surrounded by bedrock back in Eagle Crater (probably simply due to the fact that it was a smaller rover, but anyway). These images are beautiful, but really, how long until the SCIENCE??

  10. Chris

    @9 Sam H
    They have made some discoveries already. They found an alluvial fan a few weeks ago. They’ve been laser zapping rocks with the ChemCam, the weather station, and they have samples in the scoop ready to analyze. I do share part of your frustration that it seems only the pictures are being made available to the public instantaneously, but the data from the spectroscopy and other parts of the analytical chemistry lab are being kept under wraps. My guess is pictures resonate with the public, but data plots not so much. Check out their page for more details.
    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

  11. @Samh Keep in mind tha, while the primary goal is a mountain, they had to land the rover quite a ways away for safety. They plan to collect some data on the drive over, but most likely, the most interesting data will come when they are near the mountain.

    Also, like the other Chris said, pictures are better for the general public; the raw science data would be meaningless to most of us, and it may take months or years to process that data into something that would be meaningful for those who don’t understand the raw data.

    I do not know for sure, but I would guess that the raw data will likely be made available to other scientists fairly quickly, but you will likely have to dig (possibly via email) to get access to it.

  12. Alex W.

    I wonder if they have a standard procedure (like with Hubble) that gives mission scientists a window of exclusive access to the data.

    (I’m fairly sure that I learned about that in Dr. Plait’s first book, which thinking back, was about a decade ago. Sheesh.)

  13. Fernando

    Did you notice another shiny particle on the dirty by the wheel on the upper right corner of that picture ? (better visualized when zoomed)

  14. Mason Maclean

    If you have a look @ the wheel at the top of this picture and look just right of it on the pushed up bit of dirt! There is a Shiny object that looks like the one picked up on the camera when they doing the Scoop cleaning process!!! Amazing stuff :-)))

  15. Ben P.

    If I remember correctly from one of their briefing conferences, those dings aren’t from rolling around. They’re from the landing impact.

  16. Big wheels keep on turnin’
    proud Curiosity keep on burnin’
    Rollin’…rollin’…rollin on the 2 billion year old river…

  17. I´m sure the Mythbusters can make much better dings.
    But that aside… A W E S O M E !
    Still, I love me ol´rovers…

  18. Speaking of “hotwheelsenate”, apparently Hot Wheels made a Curiosity model. I haven’t seen it in stores yet, though some online sites (eBay, etc) are selling them. At least one site said it would be available during the holidays. If so, I know what I’ll be asking for for the holiday season!

  19. Ray

    The hot wheels curiousity toy is at Amazon, among other places. If you’re curious about it, here’s the Wired article:

    http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/08/hot-wheels-curiosity/

  20. Gary Miles

    Phil Love the photo! Shared it on FB. I am curious (pun intended) about one part of photo. There appears to be a white sliver near the rear wheel close to the shadow cast by Curiosity. Is this a photo defect? Or is it the object mentioned several days ago that NASA could not identify?

  21. The letters JPL are in morse code on the cleats. Curiosity will stamp that every revolution.

  22. Roberto

    Yup, there’s what looks like a shiny object on pixel coordinates (1270,199).

  23. icewings

    So I was looking at the image, imagining the rover rumbling along…
    But wait! Does it rumble? I know Mars has a teeny bit of an atmosphere.
    Is the rover making any kind of audible sound?

  24. Sam H

    @both Chrises #10-11: yeah, should have thought of that. The data are coming in (I actually remembered the plural this time), but the analysis takes longer (confidentiality being a part of that process). And I know the main action’s gonna be over at Aeolis Mons – I wonder how far up the slopes they’ll push her? Anyway, patience indeed.
    Maybe they should make some of their raw data public once it comes in though, so citizens could analyze it (a bit like that Kepler Planet Hunters thing). Very different in the case of this mission, but perhaps after they’ve done the initial, stringent analysis they could release it to see if someone out there could find something new. Just my half-cent :)

  25. Daffy

    When I was a kid, I dreamed all the time about going to Mars—-and here I am all these years later looking at this amazing image. OK, I am not there, and never will be, but this is surely the next best thing. Bravo all who made this happen!!!!!!!

  26. Michael Weir

    Anybody know the composition of the soil there? Looks very fine and powdery, yet heavy, with chunks in it. Seems like a dust storm on mars wouldn’t be very fun to be trapped in. Awesome pic.

  27. Anders

    I have a question to BA or anyone else, Its just so absurd to see pictures like this from another planet, it rocks! My question is, with no moisture, how does dirt/sand stick to the wheels?, I mean, I’d sor if expect it too peel off.. is this surface tension or sticky wheels?

  28. Thomas Siefert

    It may be the size of a car, but it’s really a truck at heart. It just needs some Playboy Bunny mudflaps.

  29. Muz

    There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t live long enough to see something like this. Awesome just doesn’t do it justice, this is one reason the world loves America. No other country on the planet could make this happen.

  30. One thing I like about this photo, is that it shows the sharper shadows you get on mars from the Sun, as the Sun has a smaller angular size from mars as it does from earth, due to the greater distance.

  31. @19. Ray

    If you have lot´s of Lego around, here you can downlaod the .pdf for the step by step build for Curiosity:
    http://lego.cuusoo.com/ideas/view/3431?r44b=no

  32. Robin

    For those wondering what Curiosity will do at the end of the first two years and the tentative end to its mission, it’ll keep going, and the mission will no doubt be extended like the missions of Voyager, Spirit, and Opportunity. Its RTG’s are expected to provide power for about 10-15 years, and its have been tested for up to 6 years of operation. Note that the systems weren’t tested to failure.

  33. Isaac

    @30. Noel
    How much different is it? For myself, I really don’t see the shadows as being particularly sharper, but that could be the resolution on my screen. As well, it seem to me that there would also be less refracted light from the sky to illuminate the shadows and blur the edges.

  34. Diane

    I love the shadows! Made by OUR sun, but not on our planet. Amazing.

  35. Captn Tommy

    Dents on the wheel.

    What do you get when you drop a one ton Vehicle onto Mars from 20 million miles?

    ah… Johnny Carson (Amazing Kresscan) thinking of you.

    enjoy the day
    Captn Tommy

  36. Captn Tommy

    On that Hot wheels toy… the Hotwheels Pathfinder/Sojourner Probe was in their little larger series and was a hell of a Lot more detailed; sprung suspension, Probe type wheels. In the three to four dollar range but a real replica.

    I am buying this though and hoping for the bigger diecast replica.

    Captn Tommy

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