Curiosity Rover update: Stalking the stony plains of Mars

A peek through the scraped and dinged up wheels of the Curiosity Rover taken with the close-up Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera Nov. 30, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I enjoy kicking back and looking over photos taken from other planets. There’s no better way to leave the Earth behind – if only for an hour – than digging through the archives. One of my favorite hangouts is the Mars Curiosity Rover raw image page. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you already know how much I like sharing my favorite finds.

A field of little rocks embedded in soil photographed on Nov. 30. It’s currently mid-autumn in Mars’ southern hemisphere. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity landed at 4.5 degrees south latitude inside Gale Crater, placing it firmly in planet’s equatorial zone. Since the tilt of Mars’ axis is 25.2 degrees, nearly the same as Earth’s, the noonday sun is always high in the sky at Curiosity’s location just as it is for folks living near Earth’s equator.  Would that the temperature would follow suit. Average daily temperatures in Gale Crater have ranged from -20 F (-29 C) during the day to -120 F (-85 C) at night in recent weeks.

View of nearby ridge with either the rim of Gale Crater or the foothills of the crater’s central peak Mt. Sharp on Nov. 29. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars’ atmosphere is too thin and its surface too dry to hold onto heat very long. Once the sun is up, the air temperature warms rapidly but then plummets after sunset.  Still, -120 F isn’t all that bad. It’s still a tad warmer, at least for the moment, than -128.6 F (-89.2 C), the lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth at the (then) Soviet station at Vostok, Antarctica on July 20, 1983.

The wheels of the rover nudged a rock from its ancient resting place on Nov. 30, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s great to see Curiosity back up and running after engineers suspended science activities in mid-November when what appeared to be an internal short in its power source was discovered. Luckily the minor electrical problem didn’t affect the rover’s capabilities. Curiosity continues its trek to Mt. Sharp, the layered mountain at Gale Crater’s center, while at the same time examining powdered rock sample gathered six months ago.

Click on any image to see a much-enlarged version perfect for at-home exploring.

Image showing the foothills of Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater on Nov. 29, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Eroded rock layers photographed on Nov. 1, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fang-like rock feature photographed on Nov. 2, 2013. Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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