Mars Curiosity Rover Shoots Self-Portrait

Mars

On Jan. 29, 2016, NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped a self-portrait during the exploration of the Namib Dune on Mars. The composite image is a collage of 57 separate pictures taken with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). According to NASA, the rover took the selfie while collecting sand and rock samples for microbial analysis. The agency added that this exploration mission is in line with the Curiosity rover’s main objective of determining whether Mars “once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.”

The designers and makers of Curiosity rover, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., explained how the composite image was processed. The mission’s directorate revealed that the wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm of the rover allowed MAHLI to acquire the 57 images, which explains why the arm of the car-sized explorer did not appear in the self-portrait.

Huffington Post reports this is not the first image to be snapped by the explorer. The rover is reported to have reached the base of Mount Sharp  in 2014. In June of the same year, the mission shot a self-portrait to celebrate a full Martian year, which is equivalent to 687 Earth days. It then snapped a “92-image composite self-portrait,” code-named “Buckskin,” in the Marias Pass area. The other selfies, which include “Rocknest” and “Windjana,” were all taken using the same process that resulted in the most recent self-portrait.

The image by the mobile laboratory marks its 1,228th day on the planet Mars. It first landed on the Red Planet on Aug. 6, 2012. In a statement, NASA said the Mars Curiosity self-portrait will help provide useful information on “active sand dunes and how the wind moves on [Mars].” The space agency also stated that the evaluation by scientists of the samples of the bedrock on Bagnold Dune Field, which is found on the northwestern side of the planet’s Mount Sharp, will assist in understanding gravitational and atmospheric forces on Mars. The rover is reported to have “scooped and sieved” three bedrock samples at the Namib Dune.

Steve Lee, deputy project manager for Curiosity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters that the robot had difficulties sampling the third sand sample. He stated that during the excavation, the component that was commanded to open did not respond to the remote control prompts. The component, code-named CHIMRA tunnel, was supposed to respond to a motorized component and “deliver a firm tap to help clean sample material from a nearby sieve.”

This failure, according to the space agency, prevented Curiosity rover from snapping images of the sand inside it. However, Lee said the NASA team will continue using “remote sensing instruments” attached on the rover’s mast while the diagnostic work on the CHIMRA tunnel is being evaluated.

According to NASA, the exploration of “active sand dunes” on Mars will continue despite the “unexpected” technical challenges. The team is said to be “evaluating possible sites” for Curiosity to drill and to collect more “rock-powder samples” for further analysis. The mission’s investigation will monitor the Namib Dune repeatedly for any sand movement. If any movement occurs, scientists intend to find out the strength and direction of the Martian winds. The Mars Curiosity rover’s self-portrait and the information it continues to send to Earth will also be useful for educational purposes at any level.

By Shepherd Mutsvara

Sources:
Huffington Post: NASA’s Curiosity Rover Snaps another Stunning ‘Selfie’ On Mars
SpaceRef: Mars Curiosity Rover Selfie with a Sand Dune
Time: The Curiosity Rover Beams Home a Selfie from a Martian Sand Dune

Image Courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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