Tag Archives: Mars

Curiosity’s historic comet photo

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Photo Credit: Curiosity on Mars – NASA Rover Opportunity Views Comet Near Mars.

According to NASA:

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity captured images of a comet passing much closer to Mars than any previous known comet flyby of Earth or Mars. The images of comet Siding Spring were taken against a backdrop of the pre-dawn Martian sky on Sunday (Oct. 19).

Images of comet A1 Siding Spring from the rover’s panoramic camera (Pancam) are online at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA18591

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA18592

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18617

Researchers used Opportunity’s Pancam to image at a range of exposure times about two-and-one-half hours before the closest approach of the nucleus of comet Siding Spring to Mars. By the time of closest approach at about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers), dawn had lit the sky above Opportunity.

“It’s excitingly fortunate that this comet came so close to Mars to give us a chance to study it with the instruments we’re using to study Mars,” said Opportunity science team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, who coordinated the camera pointing. “The views from Mars rovers, in particular, give us a human perspective, because they are about as sensitive to light as our eyes would be.”

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MOM “a thousand times better than cricket”

This is how the Indian Prime Minister responded to the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) yesterday:

“History has been created by our scientists”, said PM Narendra Modi in his speech immediately after the scientists declared the mission a success. “We have dared to reach out to the unknown.”

“When our cricketers win a tournament, we celebrate in a big way. What these scientists have achieved is thousand times bigger,” he added.

MOM

It’s certainly a great achievement – India managed a succesful Mars orbit introduction with the first spacecraft they sent to Mars. We can measures ts success against the fact that more than half the world’s previous attempts – 23 out of 41 Mars missions – have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

The Indian Mar’s Orbiter arrived in Mar’s orbit just a few days after the US Maven orbiter. Both orbiters have similar tasks. MOM’s scientific goals including using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.

The BBC described the cost of MOM as “staggeringly cheap”  by Western standards. The US Maven orbiter is costing almost 10 times as much. This bodes well for the future of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – especially for launches of commercial satellites for overseas countries and companies.

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Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists and engineers monitor the movements of India’s Mars orbiter at their Spacecraft Control Center in the southern Indian city of Bangalore (Credit: Reuters / Stringer)

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Curiosity sees a familiar “evening star.”

It’s enough to make one homesick. This view of Earth from Mars.

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Taken by the Mars rover Curiosity 80 minutes after sunset during the rover’s 529th Martian day (Jan. 31, 2014).

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This image includes the moon and this is obvious in the zoomed in view (right).

According to the caption:

“This image combines information from three separate exposures taken by Mastcam’s right-eye camera, which has a telephoto lens. The body in the upper half of the image is Earth, shining brighter than any star in the Martian night sky. In the lower half of the image is Earth’s moon, with its brightness enhanced to aid visibility. To a viewer on Mars, even the moon would appear as bright as a very bright star.”

Thanks to Jet Propulsion Laboratory | News.

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Phobos eclipses the sun – as seen by Curiosity

I find this fascinating – a short video of an eclipse of the sun by the largest Martian moon, Phobos. Photographed by Curiosity a rover/laboratory landed on Mars just over a year ago.

Mars’ Moon Phobos Eclipses the Sun, as Seen by Curiosity

Celebrate your curiosity – one year on

This week we mark the first anniversary of the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, in the Gale Crater on Mars.

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Self-portrait – Curiosity on Mars

TV and video coverage of this landing had a huge international audience on the night. It was certainly one of the top scientific events of the year.

The video below gives a short review of Curiosity and its landing.

Curiosity Rover: One Year on Mars

Celebrations

Curiosity team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the mission overall in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website from 10:45 a.m. to noon EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 6 (2:45 to 4 a.m. Wednesday Aug. 7  NZST).

Immediately following that program NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

The events will also be carried on Ustream at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

And here’s a few links with further information on Curiosity, its discoveries and celebration of the anniversary back here on earth.

Mars Science Laboratory: Celebrate Your Curiosity: Anniversary Week Activities
Mars science laboratory
Curiosity’s Views of Gale Crater

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A Kiwi makes it to Mars!

Forget optical illusions like the human face on Mars. That was observed from orbit and you had to hold your mouth right – not to mention the light direction.
But Curiosity is much closer to the ground. It has amazing equipment and excellent cameras.

And they have now seen a Kiwi!

Here’s the high-resolution photographic evidence (click to enlarge and look down at the left side, 1/3 the way up).

This was reported locally (of course) by Stuff at Kiwi Sighting On Mars | Nasa Rover Curiosity. The report says:

There aren’t many places intrepid Kiwi travellers haven’t set foot on in this world and now they’re moving on to others.

A New Zealander following the travels of Nasa’s Mars rover Curiosity has unearthed possible evidence of a Kiwi hiding on the red planet.

Ned Walker, a New Zealander living in Australia, said he was surprised at the find, but it was unmistakable.

“I have a huge interest in the Mars Curiosity Rover and I like to look at the raw images Nasa uploads onto its site each day from the rover’s cameras.

‘‘I was amazed to find in today’s raw images what can only be described a Kiwi.”

Walker thought the “monumental find”, would be of interest to all New Zealanders.”

Nasa’s online publication of the Kiwi picture.

A sundial on Curiosity?

When I saw the first reports of this on Twitter I thought it was a joke. A sundial on Curiosity? Just in case the computer packs up they can still tell the time? I thought some wag was pulling our collective legs with a photo of one of the rover’s antennae.

But, turns out this is something like a sundial. Its a Marsdial – actually a calibration target enabling photographs to be corrected for colour. BIll Nye, from the Planetary Society, describes its role in Curiosity’s Marsdial is on Mars!

“As I’m sure you’re aware, geologists love rocks, and they especially love the rocks on Mars. The first thing they all want to know about a rock is what’s it made of. For that, it’s good to just take a look at the color of the rock surface. When everything is being done on the alien landscape of another world, it’s easy enough to electronically get the color wrong, or not quite right. To that end, artists, photographers, and a few scientists have noticed that by looking at the color of a shadow on a neutral white or gray background, you can infer the color contributed to the scene by the sky.

On Earth, shadows take on a sky blue tinge (what I like to call “cerulescence”). On Mars, it’s a salmon color (what I like to call “arangidescence”). And so, the MarsDials bear a small metal post that casts a shadow onto some white and gray rings of known value or grayness.”

The NASA animation above is made up from four Mastcam images of the calibration target — the Marsdial. They were taken on Curiosity’s sol 3 (August 9, 2012) over a period of about 8 minutes. In that time, the shadow moved slightly, marking time on Mars with a sundial. (You may need to click on the photo to see the animation).

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Scientific shift work

Some of the people on teams managing the rovers on Mars call themselves “Rover drivers” or “Mars drivers.” Of course, things are not that simple. It is not possible to drive a vehicle on Mars in real-time from Earth. Instead, computer code must be uploaded to enable the vehicle to carry out planned manoeuvres, analyses, etc., autonomously.  And the computer code can only be written after the results of the previous commands are known.

In practice, this involves large teams of engineers, software experts and scientists. Each team has their own work – and the teams need to interact to plan the rover’s work, iron out priorities, and deal with problems. This work has to occur at strange times, and with deadlines, to fit in with the activity and day/night programme on Mars. Energy limitations means that the rover usually does not operate during the Martial day.

So all this work, the meetings of each team and their joint meetings, and decisions about planned activity must take place before the rover “wakes up.” And because the results from the previous day’s activities feed into this detailed decision cannot be made and code written until after that data has been downloaded and analysed.

The graphic above was shown in one of the recent Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity – media briefings. It indicates the time line for the Laboratory to be active (“awake”), the downloading of data via the Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance orbiters, assessment of data, planning of future activity (particularly that for the next day), interaction of engineering, scientific and software teams, integration of plans, validation and approval and then the sending of the new commands to Curiosity as it “wakes up” for the new day.

I note they have even left a brief time gap “margin” to handle unforeseen problems.

It must be fascinating to work in large teams like this on scientific projects. And I am sure there are also political and emotional problems that need management as well as the engineering, scientific and software problems. Apparently with groups managing Mars rovers the shift-work, and the drift in shift times because of mismatch in the length of the Earth day and the Mars sol, causes “jet lag.” So the emotional and human issues resulting from this also need management.

Andrew Kessler gives an idea of the procedures involved in managing Mars rovers and landers in his book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. This is based on his own experiences as a journalist embedded in the teams managing the recent Phoenix lander. It’s a bit of an eye-opener – at least for someone who hasn’t worked in such large scientific teams before.

See Working on Mars for my review of that book.

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Infectious jubilation

Crowd in New York’s Times Square celebrate successful Mars landing – 1:30 am. Credit: Jason Major (@JPMajor)

The mass interest in the current Olympics, and yesterday’s landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars really brought home to me that we are an empathetic species. We celebrate the achievements of others and feel the jubilation they do when things go right.

And with Curiosity’s successful landing I think we also celebrate the achievement because we see that it belongs to all of us. It is an achievement for all humanity.

The achievement is huge. The technically difficult landing seemed to go without a hitch. Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory were receiving images within minutes. Everyone was aware that attempts at Mars landing have a history of failure.

The descent by parachute was photographed by a high-resolution camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. – see below.

Photo: NASA – Curiosity Spotted on Parachute by Orbiter.

That seems incredibly lucky but clearly a lot of skill and technology went into this achievement as well. As Phil Plait wrote on Bad Astronomy:

“The simple and sheer amazingness of this picture cannot be overstated. Here we have a picture taken by a camera on board a space probe that’s been orbiting Mars for six years, reset and re-aimed by programmers hundreds of millions of kilometers away using math and science pioneered centuries ago, so that it could catch the fleeting view of another machine we humans flung across space, traveling hundreds of million of kilometers to another world at mind-bending speeds, only to gently – and perfectly – touch down on the surface mere minutes later.”

According to a media briefing earlier today the full version of this image also shows the abandoned heat shield which landed some distance from the Curiosity’s landing site.

Patience

Now we have to be patient while Curiosity is checked out by engineers and slowly brought into full functioning. It will be weeks before the vehicle starts driving around, sampling soil and rocks, and analysing samples.

Even the downloading of images already captured will take time. So far we are only seeing relatively low resolution images. Large teams of engineers and scientists will be working strange hours (the slightly different length of the Martian day (sol) and the Earth day causes “jet lag” for these people) receiving data, planning experiments, writing code and uplifting code and instructions.

Andrew Kessler gives an idea of the activity and life style of the teams involved in managing the last Mars lander – Phoenix – in his book Martian Summer: Robot Arms, Cowboy Spacemen, and My 90 Days with the Phoenix Mars Mission. For my review of this book see Working on Mars.

See also:
Curiosity requires patience
Going for gold – on Mars
Seven Minutes of Terror
Christmas gift ideas: Working on Mars

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Curiosity requires patience

The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, lands today – hopefully (5:31 pm NZ time). But when will we know if the landing has been successful?

Communication between Mars and Earth is hardly simple. It’s not just the time delays involved (currently about 15 min). There’s also rotation of both planets. So communication with Curiosity (if it lands successfully) will involve three satellites in orbit around Mars – the Odyssey Orbiter, the Reconnaissance Orbiter and ESA’s Mars Express. (Watch this video to see the alignment of Curiosity, Odyssey and Reconnaiscance during landing). Messages, and particularly data, may need to be stored on board Curiosity or the satellites before transmission to earth.

So we may not even have confirmation of Curiosity’s safe landing for several hours – maybe even several days. This video describes the problems and how they are overcome.

Thanks to Universe Today: When Will We Hear From Curiosity?

Curiosity’s landing site

Here’s a computer-generated view of Mars’ Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft north of the crater. Because of its history, 96-mile wide Gale Crater crater landing site is an ideal region for exploration of the planets history.

It has thick exposed sections of layered sedimentary rocks with a wet history. Joy Crisp, Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project Scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

“The rock record preserved in those layers holds stories that are billions of years old — stories about whether, when, and for how long Mars might have been habitable.”

For further information go to Image of the Day –NASA’s Gale Crater Mars Landing Site for Tomorrow’s ‘Search-for-Life’ Mission.

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