The Curiosity rover has just taken its first short drive since landing a couple weeks ago, a test run of its mobility systems. Moving about 6 metres (20 feet) from its landing spot, the rover created its first wheel tracks in the gravelly soil, a major and critical accomplishment.
“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” according to Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress,” he adds.
The Curiosity rover has deployed its robotic arm, another major milestone in the mission. About 2.1 metres (6.9 feet) long, it is the most complex of its kind so far, with a turret of instruments at its end which includes a camera, drill, spectrometer, scoop and other tools for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil for chemical analysis. It is a big part of what makes Curiosity a true mobile laboratory!
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.
The third panorama below is the official version from NASA. Larger sizes can be downloaded here.
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!
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.
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!