Curiosity looks at Mount Sharp

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.

Looking at Mount Sharp

Cool image time! During the ten day holiday period, during which the Curiosity science and engineering teams generally got a break, they programmed the rover to take a variety of observations over the entire period. Some of those observations included repeated snapshots of the view ahead, using the rover’s navigation camera. The image above, reduced slightly from the full resolution image to show here, is one example of that view.

You can see the dark sandy dune region in the foreground, and the increasing steepness of the slope in the background. What I find most interesting are what look like canyon washes flowing downhill on the right, in what appear to be diagonally parallel cuts. That they do not flow directly downhill suggest to me that they were not created by water flow but by wind erosion, though it is possible that the geology of different bedding plains could have forced the flows in a diagonal direction down the slope. If wind erosion is the cause, however, it suggests a process that took a very long time to occur, as the atmosphere of Mars is so thin.

The route the rover will take is through a much larger canyon slightly off camera to the right. While the slope up the mountain on the left of the image appears to be an easier route, the geology there is not as interesting. Note also that we are not looking at the peak of Mount Sharp, which is much farther south and far higher.


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  • BSJ

    Or the camera is tilted, and the channels really do go straight down hill.

    When analyzing imagery, you can’t assume that the image would be orientated as if a human standing on two self leveling legs took the picture…

  • BSJ: Normally I would agree with you and consider the possibility that the camera was tilted. However, in this case the image is a single picture, with no significant distortion. I know that based on what this mountain looks like in a lot of other images. No, I don’t think the camera is tilted, though it is possible the angle of the image creates the illusion that the channels are diagonal to the slope when in truth they aren’t. Instead, we could be looking at the slope from the side.

  • BSJ

    Is the camera on a mount that allows it to level itself in relation to the true horizon, or can it only rotate? If it can only rotate, the camera would be oriented at whatever angle the rover is sitting while on whatever terrain the rover is traversing.

    After all, it is climbing a mountain. So you can’t expect them to only take images when the rover happens to be on a level spot.

    To my eye it appears true vertical is more at the 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock position of the image.

  • BSJ

    From wikipedia…

    The Curiosity rover’s hazcams are sensitive to visible light and return black and white images of resolution 1024 × 1024 pixels.[1] These images are used by the rovers’ internal computer to autonomously navigate around hazards. Due to their positioning on both sides of the rovers, simultaneous images taken by either both front or both rear cameras can be used to produce a 3D map of the immediate surroundings. As the cameras are fixed (i.e. can not move independently of the rover), they have a wide field of view (approximately 120° both horizontally and vertically) to allow a large amount of terrain to be visible.

  • BSJ: The image I posted however was not taken by the hazcams. It was taken by the left navigation camera, which is designed to do different things than the hazcams.

  • BSJ

    Oops, Wiki tricked me! Clicking on Navcam sends you to Hazcam.

    I can’t find anything that shows what degrees of movement the mastcam/navcam has. But I did find that the rover can tilt up to 45° and not tip over!

    Unless the suspension has some sort of leveling mechanism, I’ll continue to assume appearances can be deceiving.

    I wish we could get the telemetry from the rover to see what sort of slope it is resting on at the time an image is taken. Or find something that says NASAs PIs correct for tilt before they publish an image.

  • Edward

    BSJ wrote: “I’ll continue to assume appearances can be deceiving.”

    This may be wise in any case. As Robert pointed out, “we could be looking at the slope from the side” or at an angle, rather than face on. Features on slopes can be misleading, when viewed as a 2D picture. I have been fooled by this many times while trying to draw, on my computer screen, a straight line on uneven terrain; what looked straight from one point of view looked to have curves when viewed from other points of view.

    A good example is the claim that the moon landings were faked because shadows fall in different directions in the same photograph. These people have been fooled by the uneven lunar terrain, even though much of the unevenness cannot be seen in any one photograph.

    Shadows (which is what we are using in order to see those canyon washes) can be tricky. If we use a single photograph as our only example, we may mistakenly believe that a mountain on Mars is in the shape of a face, a myth that becomes so ingrained in our cultural beliefs that someone makes a movie, like “Mission to Mars,” with a silly ending based upon that myth.

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