Curiosity Rover team enjoys tangible evidence of accomplishment

Curiosity’s tracks seen from about 186 miles up through the eye of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera. The two dark, bluish patches were created when the descent stage blew away the lighter-colored surface dust. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/U. of Ariz.

Who doesn’t like to look back at their freshly-mowed lawn and feel a sense of accomplishment at completing the task? We all like tangible reminders of progress. NASA’s mission controllers and engineers are no different. After seeing photos of the Curiosity Rover’s tracks in the Martian dust taken by the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), high-fives went around the room. 358 feet of pure squiggly beauty!

Curiosity is headed toward the rocks and soil of Glenelg to investigate terrain that may once have been soaked with water. Notice the dogleg – it was done to skirt sands that could potentially mire the robot. We don’t a repeat of what happened to the Spirit Rover, especially this early in the game.

Enhanced color view by MRO of the sky crane descent stage impact. The main crash is at right while other dark spots are thought be secondary impacts from flying debris.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Other new photos released include more detailed color views by MRO of the impacts of the parachute and sky crane that delivered the rover to the surface. Judging by the asymmetric pattern, the crane must have struck the ground at a shallow angle.

You can see amazing detail in the parachute in this photo that also shows the backshell. The backshell kicked up darker material from beneath the ground when it hit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Most craters or impacts are surrounded by an apron of impact debris arrayed in a circular or radial pattern. As long as the angle of the object hitting the ground is 45 degrees from the horizontal or greater, that’s what you get. Once the angle drops below 45, the debris gets stretched out or elongated in the direction of motion. Below 15 degrees, the ejected material is not only stretched out behind the impact, but no material appears in front (uprange) of the impact.

Navcam photo of Curiosity’s tracks as it heads toward Glenelg. You can almost hear the gritty crunch of wheels on gravel. I like how the rocks are pressed into the Martian soil by the rover’s weight. Click image for more photos. Credit: NASA

3 thoughts on “Curiosity Rover team enjoys tangible evidence of accomplishment

  1. AstroBob,
    I have a question but cant find a similiar subject to post it in so I will post here. Please bear with me, it may make sense at the end, Scientists have been able to trace human DNA back to 1 female that lived about 150,000 years ago, of course she had a mother, father and grandparents, My question is about the star Sirius that is not able to be seen by the naked eye yet the ancients knew about it. Im one to think there is a logical explanation for everything and since the universe is expanding, and it takes sometimes millions of lightyears for the light from a star to reach the earth, could not a reasonable explanation be that 150,000 years ago” A. Sirius was closer and it took thousands or millions of years for the light to reach earth, therefore maybe they could see it way back then. B. They also could have heard of it from their ancient ancestors when it was closer.
    Since it takes light years for lights from planets and stars to reach us, what we are looking at is not what it is like today, is that a true statement? If so, we are looking for intelligent life in the universe and it may be there, we are just seeing the planets from many light years ago. Thanks in advance for your answers.

    • Hi Dexteronius,
      Thanks for you nice words about the site! I appreciate it. Sirius is 8.6 light years away and moving in our direction. It was farther from the sun in the past. The particular “ancients” you refer to are the Dogon people of Mali. Their observation of Sirius’ companion is almost certainly a myth. Its companion star is a tiny, faint white dwarf orbiting very close to Sirius hardly visible in many amateur telescopes much less with the eye. The dwarf is what remains of a red giant star during its transition to dwarfdom some 120 million years ago. That was long before humans were around. There is some evidence that the Dogon got the idea by contact with European culture in the late 1800s.
      Either way we’re only talking about a nearby star with its light reaching Earth within 8 to a dozen years give or take. Even if Sirius were 5,000 or 100,000 light years away, that’s a very tiny interval of time in the life of a star. Sirius has been shining and will continue to shine the way we see it now for at least a couple BILLION years.
      One interesting thing about Sirius B, its companion. Astronomers have estimated that before it bloated up to become a red giant some 120 million years ago, it was larger than Sirius and shone as bright as Venus. I hope this helps explain.

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