Postcards from Mars: Curiosity sends stunning images of the Red Planet
29 Aug 2012
Ahead of its science mission to investigate the geology and biology of Mars’s past and present, Curiosity has been returning images from inside the planet’s Gale Crater.
Focusing the 34-millimeter Mastcam
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Focusing the 34.
This image is from a series of test images to calibrate the 34-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover. It was taken on 23 August 2012 and looks south-southwest from the rover's landing site.
The gravelly area around Curiosity's landing site is visible in the foreground. Farther away, about a third of the way up from the bottom of the image, the terrain falls off into a depression (a swale). Beyond the swale, in the middle of the image, is the boulder-strewn, red-brown rim of a moderately-sized impact crater. Father off in the distance, there are dark dunes and then the layered rock at the base of Mount Sharp. Some haze obscures the view, but the top ridge, depicted in this image, is 10 miles (16.2 kilometres) away.
Getting to Know Mount Sharp
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Getting to know.
This image taken by the Mast Camera (MastCam) highlights the interesting geology of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside Gale Crater, where the rover landed. Prior to the rover's landing on Mars, observations from orbiting satellites indicated that the lower reaches of Mount Sharp, below the line of white dots, are composed of relatively flat-lying strata that bear hydrated minerals. Those orbiter observations did not reveal hydrated minerals in the higher, overlying strata.
The MastCam data now reveal a strong discontinuity in the strata above and below the line of white dots, agreeing with the data from orbit. Strata overlying the line of white dots are highly inclined (dipping from left to right) relative to lower, underlying strata. The inclination of these strata above the line of white dots is not obvious from orbit. This provides independent evidence that the absence of hydrated minerals on the upper reaches of Mount Sharp may coincide with a very different formation environment than lower on the slopes. The train of white dots may represent an "unconformity," or an area where the process of sedimentation stopped.
Layers at the Base of Mount Sharp
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Layers at the base.
A chapter of the layered geological history of Mars is laid bare in this postcard from Curiosity. The image shows the base of Mount Sharp, the rover's eventual science destination.
This image is a portion of a larger image taken by Curiosity's 100-millimeter Mast Camera.
Curiosity is 3 weeks into a two-year prime mission on Mars. It will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life.
Two UK scientists, Professor Gupta and Dr Bridges, supported by over £0.5M of funding from the UK Space Agency, are involved in the mission and are currently working with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California. They will be analysing scientific data to help inform the operations team to optimise the MSL operations plan. They were both at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for the landing.