Tag: rover

Curiosity got shaved?

By Phil Plait | October 9, 2012 3:08 pm

Yesterday, the Mars rover Curiosity was using its scoop for the first time to grab a sample of Martian regolith (the crumbled sand, rock and dust covering the planet) when scientists back here on Earth spotted something funny looking. It was an object roughly a centimeter long that appeared shiny, in contrast to the rust-colored dust-covered pebbles and rocks around it.

Using the ChemCam, they took this close-up picture of the object:

I added the arrows. My first thought was that it looked like a piece of shredded plastic, and it may very well be something like that. Not from any Martian litterbugs, though! It’s probably something from the rover itself; it was spotted just after the scoop had dumped the regolith sample into a shaker which vibrated the material to help separate and analyze it. It seems likely whatever this thing is may have come off then.

No matter what it is, it’s stopped Curiosity’s mission progress until it can be figured out. If it’s something that got shaved off the rover itself that might be kindof important. Also, if something like that got caught in the sampling scoop, or someplace else, it could do anything from mess up the observations to damage the rover itself (if it wasn’t the result of some kind of damage in the first place). That strikes me as pretty unlikely, but better safe than sorry when you’re dealing with a $2.5 billion chem lab on a planet a couple of hundred million kilometers away.

It may very well be something benign, but it’s certainly cause for concern, and the folks at JPL are looking into it. Stay tuned for more.

You can also read more about this at Universe Today and USA Today.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, Mars, rover

Curiosity rolls!

By Phil Plait | August 22, 2012 11:27 am

Just a few minutes ago, engineers at JPL here on Earth commanded the Mars Curiosity rovers to make its first test drive! The rover rolled a few meters, stopped and took a picture of its progress:

[Click to enaresenate.]

Wow! This image was taken by the left NAVCAM (NAVigation CAMera) on Curiosity at 15:00:53 UTC (there’s a matching one by the right NAVCAM, too, and there’s already an anaglyph that’s been made). You can easily see where the wheels have disturbed the Martian surface, and where the rover made a bit of a turn as well.

I’m also fond of this picture, taken just a few minutes later at 15:03:56 UTC, also by the left NAVCAM:

Seeing the rover in the picture itself, ironically, brings home the idea that this machine is far, far away from home.

Actually, wait, scratch that. Curiosity was built to work on Mars.

It is home.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Related Posts:

- Curiosity spins its wheels
- Now you will feel the firepower of a fully armed and operational Mars rover
- Watch as Curiosity touches down gently *and* its heat shield slams into Mars
- Curiosity’s looking a little blue

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Top Post
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, Mars, rover, tracks

Curiosity spins its wheels!

By Phil Plait | August 21, 2012 2:48 pm

As a prelude to actually hitting the road, engineers at JPL commanded the Mars Curiosity rover to move its wheels, testing to make sure everything worked.

Everything worked! Here’s a fun little animated GIF showing the rear right wheel wiggling:

Sweeeeet. Countdown to someone adding a dubstep audio track in 3… 2… 1…

Note the sundial at the top right; you can see the shadow of the rover moving as time elapses. If you watch the ground you can see the perspective of the camera changing a bit as the rover rocks, too; the wheel movement is causing the rover to move slightly with each frame of the sequence.

In more good news, yesterday the engineers extended the 2-meter long boom arm. The arm has a set of tools at the end, including a camera, a scoop, a drill, a sifter, and a spectrometer (to determine the composition of samples). So it looks like Curiosity is about ready to start poking around Mars!

Bon voyage, you laser-eyed nuclear-powered extraterrestrial explorer. Go do science!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Related Posts:

- Now you will feel the firepower of a fully armed and operational Mars rover
- Watch as Curiosity touches down gently *and* its heat shield slams into Mars
- Gallery – Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
- Video of Curiosity saying bye bye to its heat shield

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

Gallery – Curiosity's triumphant first week on Mars

By Phil Plait | August 13, 2012 7:00 am
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craterrim_mountain
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curiosity_selfportrait
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exposed_bedrock
gale_mountain2
hirise_allhardware_mosaic
hirise_parachute_descent
jumbledrocks2
landing_site_annotated
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Curiosity launches to Mars on Saturday

By Phil Plait | November 25, 2011 11:55 am

[UPDATE: SUCCESS! The launch was just about perfect, and Curiosity is now on its way to Mars, scheduled to land in August 2012. Congrats to everyone on the mission!]

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 26 at 10:02 Eastern (US) time (15:02 UTC), an Atlas V rocket carrying the Curiosity Mars rover will blast off from Florida, sending the sophisticated rolling lab to the Red Planet.

You can watch the launch live at NASA TV, or I recommend on the NASA/JPL UStream channel. I imagine I’ll be up and tweeting about it, as will my pal Emily Lakdawalla.

It is no exaggeration to say that Curiosity is a huge leap forward for Mars exploration. Designed to last for nearly two years, it’s 3 meters long — the size of a hefty golf cart — and its scientific payload is ten times more massive than its predecessors. It has instruments (PDF) that can sample and taste the air and surface, imagers to provide high resolution stereo pictures, a laser to zap rocks and get their spectra (which yields their composition), and even a camera that will take video of the last two minutes of its descent to the surface to provide aerial context for its cameras once it lands.

If you thought Spirit and Opportunity were cool — and you’d be right — Curiosity will up the ante considerably. I’m very excited by the prospect of the science this rover will do, and the exploration it’s capable of as a precursor, eventually, to a human being stepping foot on this odd, dry, and cold neighboring world.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA, Space
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, Mars, rover

Speaking of dumb Mars claims…

By Phil Plait | January 21, 2008 3:00 pm

Welcome Farkers! Well, everyone but aerojockey.

Wow, some antiscience claims are so weird it’s a wonder anyone can take them seriously.

Take this blog post about the image here, for example. In just a few words, it manages to get nearly everything wrong. A lot of it is in Japanese, but some is in English:

A man is in the photograph which the Mars explorer Spirit (it stopped transmitting data in 2004) sent.

First, puhlllleeeeze. A man? It’s a tiny rock only a few inches high. It’s only a few feet from the rover! Here’s the image from NASA. As usual for antiscience nonsense, they point to a press release image with no indication of when it was taken, or what the original image is. There are thousands of Spirit images, and I have little desire to comb through them looking for this one (though it appears to be early in the mission; it’s still on the landing accouterments).

Second, Spirit stopped transmitting data in 2004? Well, kinda. It did stop, but then it started again. We’re still getting good stuff from both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. The blog post seems to phrase it that way on purpose, to make it sound like Something Mysterious Happened.

Now, I don’t read Japanese, so this may be a misunderstanding on my part. Are they just pointing out something funny looking? Maybe. FWIW, the site appears to be about weird images and such. But I see so much of this, and there is no lower limit to the dumbosity of such claims, that it just makes sense to figure on the lowest common denominator.

Anyway, the image itself is, of course, yet another example of pareidolia, our ability to see patterns in random shapes. That does look like a guy hanging out on Mars, enjoying the 0.01 Earth atmospheric pressure, the 98% CO2 air, the subfreezing cold, and of course, just being four inches tall. Martians are pretty short, it seems. And patient, given its pose.


Tip o’ the tin foil beanie to BABloggee piotr slisz.

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