Rover’s track prints in the sands of Mars 

 “It’s nice to see some Martian soil on our wheels,” said mission manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Earlier this week the rover traveled 52 feet southeastward, flat out at 1.6 inches per second toward its short-term goal of reaching Glenelg Intrigue.  Glenelg is still a quarter-mile from rover’s present location.

Once rover arrives, the hope is that it will find suitable rockbed on which to use its industrial-strength drill to sample Martian geology.

The site intrigues scientists because it’s where three different types of terrain meet, giving them the opportunity to study the Red Planet’s diverse geologic morphology (formations) and the geological history that caused three such divergent types of material to converge.

Of particular interest to NASA is a light-colored expanse showing up in satellite thermal imagery that may have been cemented through natural processes.  This hypothesis is contrary to that of a scientist on the mission who recently told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation the expanse was formed by volcanic activity.

On its journey, expected to take several weeks, the rover will continue to test its equipment and send back images of the landscape using its twin mast-mounted cameras, the Mastcam.

Given the number of detours, such as Glenelg, Curiosity’s rover should reach its long-term goal, driving partway up the 3.4 mile-high Mount Sharp, in about a year.

Mount Sharp sits in the 96-mile wide Gale Crater where the nuclear-powered, one-ton Mars Science Laboratory landed on August 6.

 JPL Morse code in track prints 

 Each of rover’s wheel treads includes a single line of Morse code spelling “JPL” molded in the zigzag pattern making up the remainder of the wheel.

“The purpose of the pattern is to create features in the terrain that can be used to visually measure the precise distance between drives,” according to Matt Heverly, the lead rover driver for Curiosity.

The Morse code gives scientists the ability to measure more accurately driving distances and proximity to other features using the visual odometry software onboard.  The software is helpful because the Martian terrain is loose, granular and varied–the rover might slip and get stuck.

The Mars Science Laboratory will be in full-service for the next 23 months, but its nuclear-powered battery extends its useful lifetime well beyond that time frame.

Source:   Discovery News, August 30, 2012    Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2012     TPMIdeaLab, August 30, 2012        Photo credits NASA/JPL-Caltech


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