My annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black is now over. It was the best February campaign ever, and the second best of all of my month-long fund-raising campaigns.


There were too many people who contributed to thank you all personally. If I did so I would not have time for the next day or so to actually do any further posts, and I suspect my supporters would prefer me posting on space and culture over getting individual thank you notes.


Let this public thank suffice. I say this often, but I must tell you all that you cannot imagine how much your support means to me. I’ve spent my life fighting a culture hostile to my perspective, a hostility that has often served to squelch my success. Your donations have now allowed me to bypass that hostility to reach a large audience.


Even though the February campaign is over, if you still wish to donate or subscribe you still can do so. Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Mars rover update: August 11, 2017

Summary: After a two week hiatus because the Sun was between the Earth and Mars and blocking communications, both rovers are once again on the move.


For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity panorama, Sol 1782

Vera Rubin Ridge close-up

Since my last update on July 12,, Curiosity spent most of the month waiting out the solar conjunction that placed the Sun between the Earth and Mars and blocked communications. In the past few days, however, the rover has begun to send down images again while resuming its journey up Mt. Sharp. The panorama above, reduced to show here, was taken by the rover’s left navigation camera, and shows the mountain, the ridge, and the route the rover will take to circle around the steepest sections to get up onto the ridge. To see the full resolution panorama click on the picture.

To the right is a full resolution section of the area in the white box. As you can see, the geology of the ridge is many-layered, with numerous vertical seams or cracks. In order to track the geological changes across these layers as the rover climbs, the science team is as expected taking a systematic approach.

Lately, one of our biggest science objectives is to conduct bedrock APXS measurements with every 5-meter climb in elevation. This allows us to systematically analyze geochemical changes in the Murray formation as we continue to climb Mount Sharp. Yesterday’s drive brought us 6 meters higher in elevation, so another touch and go for today it is!

Below is a cropped and reduced resolution image of the most recent orbital traverse image, dated sol 1754. The dotted line shows where I think the rover’s has traveled in the last 28 sols. I have also annotated what I think is the point of view of the panorama above.

Curiosity location, sol 1754, updated to 1782

The image clearly shows the erosion process that has eaten away at the light-brown layers of the Hematite Unit that forms Vera Rubin Ridge. As you climb upward to the south, you can see the layers that curve around concentrically and parallel to the beginning of the ridgeline. Curiosity is moving across those layers now. In a very short time it will finally leave the Murray Formation, the geological layer it has been traversing since March 2016, and move up onto the Hematite Unit.


For the overall context of Opportunity’s travels at Endeavour Crater, see Opportunity’s future travels on Mars.

Looking back at Opportunity's tracks in Perseverance Valley

Since my July 12 update,, not much with Opportunity has happened. Once they regained communications, they spent the first few days taking images. Then they had the rover resume travel, working down Perseverance Valley.

On Sol 4813 (August 7, 2017), Opportunity drove for the first time since conjunction, however the drive stopped short after 11 feet (3.5 meters) when the rover encountered some difficult terrain while turning. The next sol was used to bump the rover about 4 feet (1.2 meters) to get it away from the challenging rocky outcrop.

The image on the right, taken by the rover’s rear hazard camera on Sol 4816 and reduced and cropped to show here, looks behind the rover and uphill. You can see the difference between the most recent fresh tracks and the earlier tracks, made almost a month ago.

Because winter is coming, Opportunity will be doing less in the next few months, as it needs more time to recharge its batteries. It does appear however that the science team will continue to move slowly downhill into the valley, studying it to figure out if it was formed by water, water ice, or wind.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.


  • Anthony Domanico

    It’s hard for me to get any sense of scale in the pictures from the Mars rovers. The scenery has elements that are familiar in some ways but completely foreign in others. Lately, I’ve been curious about how the light levels on Mars would appear to someone standing on the surface compared to the light levels as seen on Earth. Obviously the sunlight is dimmer on Mars, but by how much? I’ve seen percentages relative to Earth, but I would like to see it for myself.

    I think the lower light levels could have significant psychological effects to colonists. Living underground is bad enough, but getting short reprieves from the bunker only to see a dim Sun is too much for me. Whoever goes has my utmost respect.

    It’s easy to take all these pictures for granted until one really stops and thinks, these are from another world… extraordinary.

  • Anthony Domanico: You might want to click through all of my rover updates to gain a sense of scale. I think I provided scale, but viewing quickly the overall travels and images over time I think will help you get scale.

  • wayne

    yeah, if you dig a little bit, Mr. Z. has created numerous helpful pics, and they really do give you a sense of scale.
    (it all sorta looks like what I imagine Arizona might resemble. HA)

    For Curiosity, a map with scale, that helped me.

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