Curiosity Snoops Around ‘Shaler’; Comet L4 PanSTARRS Update

The Curiosity Rover used its high-resolution mast camera to photograph this rock outcrop called “Shaler” in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater on Dec. 7, 2012. The area in the photo spans about 3 feet in the foreground. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity rover, clueless about the end of the world, is spending this week tooling around a shallow depression called Yellowknife Bay looking for a good rock to drill. The images it’s been returning show a striking new landscape of upturned layers of rock reminiscent of layered shales here on Earth. Some of them lie at angles to one another – what geologists call cross-bedding – that indicate a change in the rate or direction of flow of whatever it was that deposited the beds. In this case it’s likely water but could also be wind.

The rover used its ChemCam instrument to determine the rocks’ composition, but no word yet on what it is. One additional drive is planned this week before the rover team gets holiday break.

I found more pictures of the area at Curiosity’ raw image site which now has 31,570 images on file from the mission. Some of the photos take you in close for a down and dirty look at the rocks. Below you’ll find a sampling including a 3-D stereo photo. Additional Mars stereo images can be found HERE.

Raw image shows a closer-in view of layered rocks at the Shaler site. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Tightly cropped view of pebbles at the Shaler site. These that may have been rounded and polished by flowing water like the ones seen earlier by Curiosity. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
A stereo image shows a rock outcrop called “Hottah,” cited as evidence for vigorous flow of water in a long-ago Martian stream. Use a pair of blue-red glasses to see it in 3-D. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

While northern hemisphere sky watchers will have to wait until March to get a good look at Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS), folks down under are keeping an eye on it for us. The comet has recently reappeared in the dawn sky low in the eastern sky in the constellation Scorpius the scorpion for observers in the southern hemisphere. At the moment, it’s still a little fuzzball around magnitude 9.5-10.

Comet L4 PanSTARRS on the morning of Dec. 18, 2012. The numbers are star magnitudes. Kaufman estimates the comet was brighter than 10th magnitude. Details: 200mm lens, ISO 1600. Credit: Rob Kaufman

Rob Kaufman of Bright, Victoria, Australia shared a photo of the comet taken on Dec. 18. If   L4 PanSTARRS follows brightness predictions, it could reach -1 magnitude or nearly as bright as the star Sirius low in the evening sky in mid-March. I can’t think of a finer way to introduce the new season.

12 Responses

  1. Johnny

    Hey, Astro Bob

    1st let me start off by saying I love the site, I learn something new everytime I visit. So I’m wondering if you had any info on Asteroid 2002 AU4, becuase I’ve heard that it’s fly near Earth very closely on 12/21/2012 (side note, I’m not really worried about that date). But if you had any info on that I would like to know.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Johnny,
      2002 AU4 will pass about 930,000 miles from Earth over the next few days. That’s about 4 times farther than the moon, and while relatively close as asteroids go, it will be much farther from us than other recent flybys. Nothing to worry about. Glad you enjoy the site – thanks!

  2. billy

    Ok, I have a question. In the second image, what do you suppose the diagonal trench or impression is that terminates in the upper right corner? It seems rather void of pebbles or rock.

    and P.S. I too would also like to add my applause to your continuing delivery of awe inspiring images, stories, and reporting of celestial events. Thank you for all you do!

    1. astrobob

      Thanks Billy! You have a good eye. That’s a great question. The trench appears cleared of pebbles – I’m thinking that prevailing winds have been channeled through that area perhaps by the rock layers themselves. What do you think?

  3. Bobbi

    Hi Astro Bob, What is the alignment that will be taking place on the 21st winter solstice? I am from NZ and have no idea when this will be happening in our time but it is very scarey.. Thank you for taking the time to read 🙂

    1. astrobob

      Hi Bobbi,
      Thanks for writing. Despite what you may have heard, there are no celestial alignments happening on the 21st. Even if there were, they’d have a negligible effect on Earth. We’ll be fine tomorrow. Enjoy your first day of summer!

  4. billy

    Well, my fist thought was, “finally, this must be where they dragged Jimmy Hoffa”, but the more I thought about it the less likely that hyopthesis seemed.

    I suppose it could be a stream bed. the center of which has been filled in by Martian dust or soil, obscuring the pebbels. Whatever it is it certainly is interesting as it seems to disect the rest of the local topography.

  5. David

    Hey Bob. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve wrote you.last year you helped me get over the whole elenin(sorry if I spelled that wrong) comet’s the 21St in Australia today I’ve learn to live and let go not to worry so much about things I don’t have any influence on. Thanks to you so THANX! Also it has been admitted that no one can pin point the exact date the Callender end so why do you think everyone thinks it ends on the 21St. Because I’ve been told it already ended.

    1. astrobob

      You’re welcome David. And of course the Mayan calendar – any calendar – is just that, a man-made document that has no predictive power, just reminder power.

  6. David

    So wouldn’t the end of the world rules still apply to Australia if it’s the 21St there rite now? Because tomorrow will be the 22 got them and the 21St to basically what I’m saying is doomsday would be today rite? Just a query. 🙂

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