curiosity rover images

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These are images of Mars, courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. On this spacecraft is a powerful camera known as HiRISE. It’s been sending us detailed images of Mars similar to our own “Google Earth”.

What stands out to me is the staggering level of diversity and beauty. Mars is a dead planet, but it clearly had lots going on once. How does a planet die?

The answer is simpler than you might have thought. If you make a large cup of tea and a small cup of tea, wait fifteen minutes and taste each cup. You’ll notice the large cup is warmer than the smaller one. Small things lose heat faster than large ones.

The surface of Mars has been blasted by the Sun’s solar wind for a long time. The shield against such a thing comes from the same concept as what keeps a cup of tea hot. When Mars had a hot interior, it’s iron core was liquid metal and spinning. This generates a magnetic field.

The solar wind is simply charged particles, subject to magnetism. On Earth, our magnetic field blocks their access to the Earth’s surface, protecting us.

Earth is larger than Mars, and has thus kept it’s interior heat more efficiently.

Mars is a fossil. It was once a living planet with lots of liquid water. These pictures make that clear and ground science confirms it. It was however once more likely to house life, it seemingly may have been quite hospitable.

Is it possible to bring Mars back to life? Certainly humans can colonize it with massive industrial protections against the radiation. This would be expensive and difficult. Some however bring up the question of changing the planet so we don’t need to live in artificial environments.

Could we actually bring Mars back to life?

P.S. If you look carefully at the top right image, you’ll see a blue area… that’s the Curiosity Rover right after landing.

Images from NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Our Mars Orbiter Looks Down and Saw Our Mars Rover

Right now, five human spacecrafts study Mars by hanging out near it. Two do it from the Martian surface—the Curiosity rover, which began its mission in 2012, and the more-than-a-decade-old Opportunity rover—and three do it while orbiting around the red planet. 

Earlier this month, one of those kinds of spacecraft happened to see the other. 

On April 11, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed near Aeolis Mons, a mountain near the equator in the planet’s eastern hemisphere. It photographed a hilly region nearby known as the Kimberley, and there it caught a robot that’s been hanging out among the hills for the past few months: the Mars Curiosity Rover.

Read more. [Image: NASA]

Mercury passes in front of the Sun, as seen from Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has imaged the planet Mercury passing in front of the sun, visible as a faint darkening that moves across the face of the sun.

This is the first transit of the sun by a planet observed from any planet other than Earth, and also the first imaging of Mercury from Mars. Mercury fills only about one-sixth of one pixel as seen from such great distance, so the darkening does not have a distinct shape, but its position follows Mercury’s expected path based on orbital calculations.

“This is a nod to the relevance of planetary transits to the history of astronomy on Earth,” said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a member of the Mastcan science team. “Observations of Venus transits were used to measure the size of the solar system, and Mercury transits were used to measure the size of the sun.”

The observations were made on June 3, 2014, from Curiosity’s position inside Gale Crater on Mars. In addition to showing the Mercury transit, the same Mastcam frames show two sunspots approximately the size of Earth. The sunspots move only at the pace of the sun’s rotation, much slower than the movement of Mercury.

Many viewers on Earth observed a Venus transit in June 2012, the last visible from Earth this century. The next Mercury transit visible from Earth will be May 9, 2016. Mercury and Venus transits are visible more often from Mars than from Earth, and Mars also offers a vantage point for seeing Earth transits. The next of each type visible from Mars will be Mercury in April 2015, Venus in August 2030 and Earth in November 2084.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M