Mars rover update: Sept 27, 2016

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.


Curiosity traverse map, Sol 1471

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

In the past week Curiosity finally left Murray Buttes and began moving south towards Mount Sharp, and, for at least one day, I thought tracking the rover’s movements might become easier. Early in the week the science team published an updated overhead traverse map that not only showed the topographical elevation contour lines for the surrounding terrain, but also included a blue line roughly indicating the rover’s future route. For reasons I do not understand, however, they only did this for one day, and then went back to the un-annotated traverse maps they had been using previously. I have therefore revised the most recent traverse map, shown on the right, to include these contour lines as well as the planned future route. The contour lines are hard to read on the full image, but below the fold on the right is a zoomed in view of Curiosity’s position as it left Murray Buttes, which shows the rover’s elevation at about 4376 meters below the peak of Mount Sharp. This means the rover has gained about 1,150 meters, or about 3,775 feet, since its landing, but only 50 meters or about 150 feet since March of this year. It is still not on the mountain but in the low foothills at its base.

Contour lines and route planning

The goal as they moved south this week had been to find another drill site, but it seems they had trouble picking a good spot from the innumerable flat rocks before them. The image below shows the ground ahead on Sol 1468, which on the close-up traverse image to the right is the top yellow dot. In the next two days they traversed this terrain, but couldn’t find any rocks appropriate to drill into. They now say they are going to veer to the southwest to get “in front of a small exposure of cross-bedding for contact science.”

The way ahead


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

Since last week the Opportunity science team sent the rover due east, right to the edge of the mound that had been in the center of the Sol 4498 panorama I had created in my Sept 20th update. As it turns out, this mound was the northernmost mound in the overhead traverse image, not the middle mound as I had guessed incorrectly. Below is a cropped version of the most up-to-date overhead traverse map, annotated by me for context.

Opportunity's location Sol 4500

I do not know where they will send the rover next, but my best guess, indicated by the dotted yellow line, would be that they will head south and east to get as close as they can to the inside edge of the crater rim. From there they could then head south to that large outcrop, then back west into the gap to look at the dark patches of ground there. This guess is partly based on the panorama below, created from images taken on Sol 4505 by the rover’s navigation camera. The rover now sits quite close to the mound so that it can almost look down past it into the crater’s vast floor. I have indicated what I think this panorama shows on the traverse map above, which also shows that my theorized route travels directly down the center of this panorama.

Panorama from Sol 4505 images


Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.

This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.

This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.

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