Curiosity – Arm Camera on Sol 30

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity’s Tool Arm
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

This image of MAHLI was taken from the left eye of the Mast Camera (MastCam) during the 30th Sol on Mars. The pink circle in the center of the image is the dust cover on the MAHLI camera, which is about 10 cm in diameter. The triangular mechanism to the right of the camera is the wire brush dust removal tool.

Curiosity has now traveled more than the length of a football field (American Football). The tracks left on the surface have been imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (image below).

The next week will be filled with testing the robotic arm. Daniel Limondi said:

We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important ‘teach points’ that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments. These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth.

Once these tests are completed and results analyzed, Curiosity will continue on toward Glenelg, where it is expected to scoop soil, drill into rocks, process collected samples and deliver a sample into the analytical instruments.

Tracks from the first Drives by Curiosity seen from HiRISE
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Curiosity – Sol 1 – Landing Site

Curiosity Landing Site
Curiosity Landing Site from HiRISE
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The entire Curiosity Landing Site is shown in this image. Visible is the Sky Crane, the Parachute and Back Shell, The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the Heatshield (far right).

Below, Curiosity’s Heatshield in Flight:

Today, the MRO team located another object in this image — not present in prior images of the same region — which is the right size to be the rover’s heat shield. The heat shield was ejected from the rover and its back shell before this image was taken. The team thinks the heat shield is still in free flight, because, if it were to have already hit the surface, it would have kicked up a dust cloud. The HiRISE image of NASA’s Phoenix lander on its parachute also captured the heat shield in free fall. Other image products from the same observation are, or will be, at .

Curiosity Heatshield
Curiosity Heatshield in Flight from HiRISE aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Curiosity Descent Captured by Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter

Curiosity Parachute
MRO HiRISE Image of Curiosity beneath the Parachute
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / HiRISE

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of Curiosity descending beneath its parachute. Alfred McEwen writes about the image taken by the HiRISE camera:

NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.

Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; and a separate image is a smaller cutout of MSL stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is landing on the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp.”

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole are clearly visible. The cords connecting the parachute to the backshell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of Phoenix descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles.

(The MSL suspension lines are made of material called Technora which has a tan color, while the Phoenix suspension lines were Kevlar which is yellow and this may help explain why they aren’t visible in the image.)

The bright spot on the backshell containing MSL might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. MSL was released from the backshell sometime after this image was acquired.

This view is one product from an observation made by HiRISE targeted to the expected location of MSL about 1 minute prior to landing. It was captured in HiRISE CCD RED1, near the eastern edge of the swath width (there is a RED0 at the very edge). This means that MSL was a bit further east or downrange than predicted.

Mars Rover Spirit Lander Site

Spirit Lander
Spirit Lander and Bonneville Crater
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured the image above, showing the lander for the Mars Rover Spirit in the lower left hand corner (see the circle – click on the image to enlarge it).

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO recorded this image on 29 January 2012.

Martian Dust Devil

Dust Devil
Dust Devil on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this dust devil image (above) on 16 February, 2012.

The dust devil is more than one half mile high and about thirty yards in diameter, and was located in the Amazonis Planitia region of northern Mars.

Sand Dunes at Noachis Terra

Mars Dunes
Sand Dunes at Noachis Terra on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image on 29 November, 2011.

The image shows sand dunes in the Noachis Terra impact crater on Mars. Other images can be found at

Mountains and Buried Ice on Mars

Phlegra Montes
High Resolution of part of the Phlegra Montes Range
Image Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released new images from the Mars Express spacecraft of the Phlegra Montes range, where tectonic forces have created mountains and radar studies indicate that large volumes of ice are buried.

The images from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express shows the ‘lobate debris aprons’ surround most mountains and plateaus in the range. These are formed when material is transported down the mountain. On Earth, glaciers can be covered with rock and other debris in a similar manner. The notion that glacier ice may be buried in the region is supported by ground piercing radar aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The ice appears to be as little as 20 meters below the surface.

The detailed image above is the small rectangle shown below in an image of the entire Phlegra Montes range.

Phlegra Montes Range
The Phlegra Montes Range
Image Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Impact craters in the region offer additional clues about recent glacier formation. These mid latitude glaciers formed during the past several hundred million years when the polar axis of Mars was different. Snow in the craters compacted to form the glaciers. Ice fields like these might provide water for future Martian explorers.

These images were collected on 1 June 2011. The Phlegra Montes region is located West North West of Olympus Mons as shown in the image from Google Mars below:

Phlegra Montes Google
The Phlegra Montes Range on Google Mars
Image Credit: Google Mars

Crater Drains Into A Cavern on Mars

Crater on the flank of Pavonis Mons on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Earlier this year, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) captured an image of a crater with a block dot in the center on the slopes of the Pavonis Mons volcano. Mission managers decided to have another look, this time with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).

The black dot turned out to be a skylight 35 meters across leading into a cavern below. The cavern is likely a lava tube located beneath the surface of the volcano. Based on the shadow, the floor is about 20 meters below the skylight.

Speculation centers on the formation of the crater. It could be a sink hole formed from the loose dust on the volcano flowing into the cavern when the roof collapsed. In this closeup, one can see how the walls of the crater have slumped and material has flowed into the cavern below.

The hole might also be from a small meteorite that punched a hole through the lava tube. There does not seem to be much (if any) rim from a meteorite strike and the crater it would have created. Then, there is speculation that the underground cavern is a former ice deposit that has been exposed and sublimated into the Martian atmosphere.

Later this year, the HiRISE mission plans another image of the crater, creating a stereo picture that may help resolve the mystery.