New Curiosity panoramas show full view of Mount Sharp

High-resolution view of Mount Sharp in Gale crater. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / Emily Lakdawalla

There are some great new panoramic images from the Curiosity rover finally showing Mount Sharp in full profile. Other than some early low-resolution images, previous higher-resolution photos have shown only the lower portions and foothills of Mount Sharp, which is several kilometres away from Curiosity’s landing site and about 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) tall. Taken on sol 12, these ones are black and white, but colour ones will follow as well.

The individual images have been stitched together to form the complete panoramas; the first is an excellent three-frame Navcam panorama of Mount Sharp, put together by Emily Lakdawalla from The Planetary Society (above). We can now see the entire mountain (from this vantage point) in higher resolution than before. Click image for larger version.

The second panorama, from Damien Bouic in France, shows the first 360˚ view around the rover which includes all of Mount Sharp. His original blog post is here (in French). There are two versions posted there, the static image (same as below) and a VR version which you can zoom around in. Click image for larger version.

360˚ panoramic view of Mount Sharp in Gale crater. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / Damien Bouic

The third panorama below is the official version from NASA. Larger sizes can be downloaded here.

360˚ panoramic view of Mount Sharp in Gale crater. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

It should also be noted that the actual highest peak of Mount Sharp is out of view from this location, and won’t be seen until Curiosity can move much closer to and around the mountain. Thanks to Emily and Damien for use of their images!

Curiosity fires up its laser and zaps first rock

Image of first rock, called Coronation, to be targeted by Curiosity’s laser. The circular inset image of the rock is before the laser firing, while the square inset image is of the small hole in the rock after. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

The Curiosity rover just fired its laser for the first time yesterday, targeting a small nearby rock, primarily as “target practice.” Is Curiosity on the attack? No, the laser is for scientific purposes only, as it vapourizes a small amount of rock; the dust created can then be analyzed by other instruments to determine its composition.

That may not sound as exciting as a “War of the Worlds” in reverse, but it’s still a laser nonetheless and will help in the exploration of the rich geology in Gale crater where Curiosity has landed. With massive sedimentary layers and alluvial fans created by water a long time ago, this area is a geologist’s dream.

See for the full article.

Curiosity self-portrait

Self-portrait of the Curiosity rover from the Mastcam cameras. Credit: NASA-JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has taken its own picture – a high-resolution self-portrait using its Mastcam cameras, which look down on the rover from the rover’s “head.” The hilly rim of Gale crater is in the background. The AR or “augmented reality” tag can be seen on the rover’s deck near the centre of the image. It is similar to other AR and QR code tags which are now becoming commonplace; by taking a photo of an image of it with a smartphone, a person will be able to obtain more information about the mission even though the tag itself is millions of kilometres away. Cool high-tech geekiness!

A larger version of the image is available here.

Mars may have once had active plate tectonics, new study says

Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in the solar system. Is it evidence for early plate tectonics on Mars?
Credit: NASA

Plate tectonics are a geological phenomenon that, in our solar system, have long been thought to be unique to Earth. The Earth’s crust is broken into seven different major sections or “plates,” kind of like a cracked eggshell. These plates move around, slide against each other and even move above and below each other. Earthquakes are a common result of all of this activity.

Other planets and moons in our solar system haven’t shown evidence of this so far, even though some are volcanically active, like Jupiter’s moon Io for example (volcanic activity is possible without plate tectonics). Mars has huge shield volcanoes, but they are thought to have been extinct for millions or billions of years. A lack of crustal movement would explain why Mars’ volcanoes have tended to become so large, much bigger than any on Earth, since they remained in one spot and just kept growing instead of moving around.

But now a new report challenges this view of Mars, suggesting that it did once have active plate tectonics, but that the crust was divided into no more than two plates and that they moved much more slowly than those on Earth, due to Mars’ smaller size and cooling of its interior early in its history.

See for the full article.

Wheels on Mars

One of Curiosity’s six wheels sitting on the Martian surface after a perfect landing.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

A great image taken by the Curiosity rover of one of its six wheels. Lots of detail but also iconic, showing that the largest rover ever sent to Mars so far, using a first-ever new landing technique, successfully descended to the surface. With “wheels on the ground” now, it will soon begin exploring, along with the Opportunity rover, which is still roving after eight years!