Crater taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on August 8.
“It’s quite an experience to be looking at a place that feels really comfortable” and familiar, he said. “What’ s going to be interesting is finding out all the ways that it’ s different.
” Scientists know that the crater where Curiosity is situated was covered with water in the past, and the rover itself may well be sitting on the edge of what was once a river delta. Three-mile high Mount Sharp also sits in the midst of the 100 miles in diameter crater, and will be a major focus of the mission, according to JPL.
High-resolution close-up images also show what appear to be pebbles and gravel over a layer of what scientist believe is bedrock. One set of images also shows a small nearby indentation with exposed rock. “You can see a harder, rocky surface under gravel and pebbles,” Mr. Grotzinger said, indicating that the site could become the rover’s first destination.
Intriguing Geological Find
The rover Curiosity is indulging in a flurry of multimedia activity ahead of its science mission proper. It sent the first
- image from its 100n–mi telephoto lens, already spotting an intriguing geological “unconformity:. Nasa also released .a colour panorama of Mount Sharp, the rover’s ultimate goal.
The rover relayed “the first voice recording to be sent from another planet”, and after one day it also broadcasted a song from artist will.i.am as part of an educational event. But alongside these show pieces, Curiosity – also known as the Mars ,Science Laboratory – is already warming up its instruments for a science mission of unprecedented scope on the Red Planet.
Nasa said that the rover was already returning data from Mars than all of the agency’s earlier rovers combined. It will eventually trundle to the base of Mount Sharp, the 5km-high peak at the centre of Gale Crater, in which the rover touched down just over three weeks ago.
For now it is examining the “scour marks” left by the rocket-powered crane that lowered the rover onto the planet’s surface, giving some insight into what lies just below it. The rover will now employ its Dan instrument, which fires the subatomic particles neutrons at the surface to examine levels of hydrogen- and hydroxyl-containing minerals that could hint at Mars’ prior water-rich history:
Another tool in its arsenal, the ChemCam, which uses a laser to vapourise rock and then chemically examine the vapour, will also have a look at the scour marks. And the . Sample Analysis at Mars or Sam instrument, itself a package 1
of three analysis tools, has now been switched on and is being run through its paces ahead of “sniffing” the Martian atmosphere; the tests include analysing a sample of Earth air that was left in it at launch.
But what has caught the interest of Nasa engineers already is what is called an “unconformity” spotted in the rover’s first images of Mount Sharp; and this ‘probabl’ indicates presence of plate tectonics in Martian surface.
The term refers to an evidently missing piece in the geological record, where one layer of sediment does not geologically neatly line up with that above it. Images from orbit had indicated that the lower foothills of Mount Sharp consisted of flat-lying sediments rich in “hydrated” minerals, formed in the presence of water, but that layers above seemed to lack the minerals.
Now, the rover’s Mastcam – which provided the new colour panorama image – has taken a picture of the divide, showing sediments apparently deposited at a markedly different angle than those below them. Similar deposits on Earth can arise due to tectonic or volcanic activity. Further investigation will have to wait some time however, as Curiosity takes a bit of a side trip.
The rover’s multimedia streak will continue as it takes a short 10m drive and works to capture stereo imagery – like our eyes, combining two images to gain information about depth and distance.
The rover received and beamed back a message recorded by Nasa administrator Charles Bolden, which read: “The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation
White dots mark the line between two different geological “strata”.