Look at what two years on Mars did to the Curiosity Rover
NASA's Curiosity rover just recently finished its second year exploring Mars, and the red planet's harsh environment has taken its toll. Rocky terrain, tricky sand dunes, and exposure to Martian dust storms have left the SUV-sized robot looking a little worse for wear as it continues its march towards its eventual goal, Mount Sharp.
Below is a before-and-after look at a variety of instruments and features on Curiosity and the wear they've endured during the rover's first two years, made from images uploaded by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Each image is either from the MAHLI imager or the Mastcam, and is also labeled with the Sol number (sol = one Martian solar day, the mission is currently on Sol 724) during which each image was taken.
Curiosity wheel damage: The problem and solutions
The Planetary Society
There are holes in Curiosity wheels. There have always been holes -- the rover landed with twelve holes deliberately machined in each wheel to aid in rover navigation. But there are new holes now: punctures, fissures, and ghastly tears. The holes in Curiosity's wheels have become a major concern to the mission, affecting every day of mission operations and the choice of path to Mount Sharp. Yet mission managers say that, so far, the condition of the wheels has no effect on the rover's ability to traverse Martian terrain. If the holes are not causing problems, why the rerouting? Is the wheel damage a big deal or not?
Curiosity Rover on Mars Stalled by 'Hidden Valley' Sand Trap
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity may have to choose a new route to the base of a huge Red Planet mountain.
The 1-ton Curiosity rover had been heading for Mount Sharp — a 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) mountain in the center of Mars' Gale Crater — via "Hidden Valley," a sandy swale that's about the length of a football field. But Curiosity turned back shortly after entering the valley's northeastern end earlier this month, finding the sand surprisingly slippery, NASA officials said.
"We need to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the wheels and Martian sand ripples, and Hidden Valley is not a good location for experimenting," Curiosity project manager Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.
As Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring hurtles toward Mars, NASA is taking steps to protect its Martian orbiters. The plan? Use the planet itself as a shield between the spacecraft and the comet’s potentially dangerous debris.
As part of its long-term Mars Exploration Program, NASA currently has two spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Odyssey, with Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) set to arrive in late September. Teams of scientists at the University of Maryland, the Planetary Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) have used data from both Earth-based and space telescopes to model Siding Spring’s journey through the inner solar system, and determined that there is no risk of the comet colliding with Mars. However, at its closest approach to Mars on October 19, 2014, Siding Spring will come within 82,000 miles of the Red Planet, which is about a third of the distance from Earth to the Moon. The closest comets ever to whiz by Earth have been at least ten times more distant.
With the ongoing success of the Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, America's imagination has once again been captured by our nearest planetary neighbor.
To celebrate the new National Geographic book Mars Up Close, find out about the latest discoveries from the Red Planet as a panel of distinguished space scientists and Mars experts involved in current Mars exploration share what we’ve learned from Curiosity and the other Mars rovers.
All You Need to Know About the Mars 2020 Rover in One Infographic
NASA has finally settled on the seven instruments its Mars 2020 rover will be carrying when embarking on its journey to the Red Planet about six years from now.
These instruments, which were chosen from a total of 58 proposed ones, are expected to help the Mars 2020 rover explore its target planet and gain a better understanding of its makeup.
Thus, the instruments will work together to collect information concerning Mars' landscapes, mineralogy, and atmosphere, researchers with NASA explain.
This rock encountered by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is an iron meteorite called "Lebanon," similar in shape and luster to iron meteorites found on Mars by the previous generation of rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Lebanon is about 2 yards or 2 meters wide (left to right, from this angle). The smaller piece in the foreground is called "Lebanon B."
This view combines a series of high-resolution circular images taken by the Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument with color and context from rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam). The component images were taken during the 640th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (May 25, 2014).
The imaging shows angular shaped cavities on the surface of the rock. One possible explanation is that they resulted from preferential erosion along crystalline boundaries within the metal of the rock. Another possibility is that these cavities once contained olivine crystals, which can be found in a rare type of stony-iron meteorites called pallasites, thought to have been formed near the core-mantle boundary within an asteroid.
Martian salts must touch ice to make liquid water, study shows
University of Michigan
In chambers that mimic Mars' conditions, University of Michigan researchers have shown how small amounts of liquid water could form on the planet despite its below-freezing temperatures.
Liquid water is an essential ingredient for life as we know it. Mars is one of the very few places in the solar system where scientists have seen promising signs of it – in gullies down crater rims, in instrument readings, and in Phoenix spacecraft self portraits that appeared to show wet beads on the lander's leg several years ago.
No one has directly detected liquid water beyond Earth, though. The U-M experiments are among the first to test theories about how it could exist in a climate as cold as Mars' climate.
The researchers found that a type of salt present in Martian soil can readily melt ice it touches – just like salts do on Earth's slippery winter walkways and roads. But this Martian salt cannot, as some scientists suggested, form liquid water by sucking vapor out of the air through a process called deliquescence.
The adventurous primate Curious George is heading to Mars for the first time in a special TV episode of the cartoon airing Monday (May 19).
While Curious George has been to space before, this is the first time he is exploring the Red Planet. In the episode, "Red Planet Monkey," George needs to help engineers on Earth figure out what is making the rover's controls stick. The primate finds himself on an amazing adventure to Mars with his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat.
Mars Rover Heads Uphill After Solving 'Doughnut' Riddle
Researchers have determined the now-infamous Martian rock resembling a jelly doughnut, dubbed Pinnacle Island, is a piece of a larger rock broken and moved by the wheel of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in early January.
Only about 1.5 inches wide (4 centimeters), the white-rimmed, red-centered rock caused a stir last month when it appeared in an image the rover took Jan. 8 at a location where it was not present four days earlier.
More recent images show the original piece of rock struck by the rover's wheel, slightly uphill from where Pinnacle Island came to rest.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover looks to 'jump' sand dune
The Curiosity Mars rover is to try to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot's path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle's aluminium wheels.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA's Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed "Purgatory Dune".
Large international interest in riding with NASA’s next Mars Rover
The next NASA rover to be sent to the surface of Mars has received twice the usual amount of proposals for carrying science and exploration technology instruments. The agency is reviewing a total of 58 submitted proposals, 17 of which came from international partners, ahead of a proposed mission in 2020. Announced at the end of 2012, the next NASA rover will be based on the Curiosity Rover that is currently exploring the surface of Mars.
LEGO launches Mars Curiosity; Plus! Five toy brick spacecraft awaiting liftoff
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has landed in LEGO's toy catalog and is now available for order.
The fifth in a line of fan-created, LEGO-produced building kits, the six-wheeled science laboratory could be followed by the now Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft, Hubble Space Telescope, or other space-themed kits, if the public votes for them online.
The 295-piece "NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover" is now for sale for $29.95 through the Danish toy company's webshop. Created and suggested by engineer Stephen Pakbaz, who worked on the real Curiosity before its launch to the Red Planet, the model faithfully recreates many of the actual car-size rover's features, including its "rocker-bogie" suspension.
Curiosity Finds A Former Lake On Mars
Once upon a time, in the lowest part of Gale Crater on Mars, there was a lake about the length and width of one of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. It was fed by rivers that ran into it. If you stood on its shores, you might have seen snow or ice capping the mountains in the distance.
After its first 100 Mars-days, or sols, on the Red Planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover trundled down into this now-dry lakebed. The rover took images of rocks along the way and drilled two holes to take samples. It’s from these samples scientists determined this lake existed and that its waters weren’t too alien, after all, compared to water on Earth. The water was of relatively neutral pH and low salinity. “I would be pretty confident it would be fresher than seawater,” says Scott McLennan, a geoscientist with Stony Brook University in New York who worked on this and other studies based on Curiosity data.
This is water that microbes could have lived in, although Curiosity found no direct evidence of life on Mars, nor is it designed to do so, McLennan tells Popular Science.