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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Paydirt already...

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While Curiosity is undergoing post landing tests, it appears that the rover may already be in a brilliant spot for learning about the history of water on Mars: The mini sized rover has come down near the edge of an alluvial fan [1] - a spread of debris left by water running down the side of Gale crater.

Based on the MARDI [2] images, the team has put the rovers co-ordinates at 4.5895 S, 137.4417 E. The alluvial fan material is a lag deposit - it was deposited in ancient times, and the weather has blown away the fine grained material, leaving behind a spread of similarly sized pebbles.

This is a nice, simple, patch to understand geologically speaking. Also, it's apparently water related - all of which makes for a nice start to what will, hopefully, be a long mission. Nearby there is an even more interesting spot: A three way junction, between three distinctly different looking kinds of terrain - such unusual locations are often big clues to conditions on a world, millions or billions of years ago.

Image above: An image from the MRO orbiter [3], showing the location of Curiosity, and the various spent parts of its landing system. Centre right, you can see the triple junction of different terrains. Image courtesy of NASA.
But, while the robot is designed to rove across the plains of Mars, this spot is potentially full of good science. Or, to quote John Grotzinger, the mission's lead scientist: "This place is awesome. We really don't want to blow out of there."

Image above: The alluvial fan that Curiosity has landed on, with Mount Sharp in the background. From where the rover is at the moment it's a five and a half kilometre trek to the top, which I'd find quite intimidateing. But then, I won't even mow the lawn until I loose sight of the shed. Image courtsey of NASA/JPL.

All of the robots systems have apparently made it through the landing intact, and on the way down the MARDI camera captured this series of images, from the moment the protective backshell was jettisoned, until the rovers wheels hit the dirt:

Video above: The recording from the MARDI camera, of the last minutes of landing. the impact was about on par with the speed of something falling an inch to the ground (on Earth). You can see the dust blown up by the skycranes jets, and it seems that Curiosity is already covered in Martian dust. Never mind, who's going to see? Video courtesy of NASA/JPL.

 Lastly, if you've ever wondered if scientists and engineers get a rush out of their work:

Image above: The Curiosity team find out that the lunch van has arrive... I mean, that Curiosity has made it safely to the surface of Mars. Image courtesy of the US government.

Oh yeah. Landing things on Mars is addictive.
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