Mars Curiosity Rover snaps ‘out of this world’ selfie

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Mars Curiosity Rover snaps 'out of this world' selfie
This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin." The MAHLI camera on Curiosity's robotic arm took multiple images on Aug. 5, 2015, that were stitched together into this selfie. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is not only great a scientific research, but is also equally good at photography. In its latest work of art, the rover has snapped an amazing selfie in lower Mount Sharp.

The rover had been busy drilling at the “Buckskin” rock target in the “Marias Pass” area of lower Mount Sharp over the last several weeks investigating a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. According to NASA scientists, the presence of hydrogen indicates water bound to minerals in the ground.

The rover then used the camera on its robotic arm for multiple images that were then stitched into a self-portrait at the drilling site.

After capturing the string of images that helped create the sweeping panorama [high-res image available here] and finishing up the work in Marias Pass on August 12, the robotic rover headed onward up Mount Sharp, the layered mountain. This September the rover will be completing one year at the layered mountain – it reached in September 2014.

The analysis of the sample powder from Buckskin is yet to be completed and Curiosity is carrying some of it along as it moves further. NASA said that rover’s internal laboratories are analyzing the material and this will enable mission’s science team members to understand why this area bears rocks with significantly higher levels of silica and hydrogen than other areas the rover has traversed.

The first time Curiosity noticed the area with high silica and hydrogen was on May 21 while it was climbing to a site where two types of sedimentary bedrock lie in contact with each other. According to scientists, such type of contact zones may provide clues about ancient changes in environment, from conditions that produced the older rock type to conditions that produced the younger one.

This particular contact zone was what lured mission scientists to choose Marias Pass as a route toward higher layers of Mount Sharp.

Pale mudstone, like bedrock the mission examined for the first several months after reaching Mount Sharp at an area called “Pahrump Hills,” forms one side of the contact. The overlying side is darker, finely bedded sandstone.

Once there, the rover examined the Marias Pass contact zone closely using its onboard instruments. Because it detected unusual levels of silica and hydrogen in rocks passed during the climb, scientists decided to take Curiosity back to examine that area and acquire a drilled sample.

Buckskin was the first rock drilled by Curiosity since an electrical circuit in the drill’s percussion mechanism exhibited a small, transient short circuit in February during transfer of sample powder from the third target drilled in the Pahrump Hills area.

“We were pleased to see no repeat of the short circuit during the Buckskin drilling and sample transfer,” said Steven Lee, deputy project manager for Curiosity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “It could come back, but we have made changes in fault protection to continue safely drilling even in the presence of small shorts. We also improved drill percuss circuit telemetry to gain more diagnostic information from any future occurrences.”