NASA gets artsy

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

One of the things I like about NASA missions isn’t just the information and new discoveries but also the images. Who can forget the Apollo 8 Earthrise, pale blue dot or the images from the surface of Mars.

Now most of the ones the public are aware of are carefully picked by officials, there are several versions of Earthrise alone. However missions now dump all the images onto the website and are easily found under the RAW images. I usually find these better than the ones that are sent out or used in publications. For example this lovely image of Saturn:

This was taken by Cassini 2 days ago from a distance of 1.7 million miles. Black and white has a tendency to make interesting photos but this captures the patterns on the planet and all the details of the ring system.

Sometimes though, the ones released or featured are amazing, take for example Curiosity currently trundling around Mount Sharp on the surface of Mars. While this too has lots of RAW images sometimes NASA just have to do something different. And when they do you get something like this:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

The twilight sky over Mars. Just noticeable (although click it and get a bigger one) is a small bright star in the sky. Except to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi – That’s no Star. It is infact here, Earth, zoom in? and you see this:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Earth and the Moon would appear as two incredibly bright stars in the Martian sky, this image was made up of three separate images taken from the mast camera (Mastcam) and stitched together and cleaned up the originals are a bit “noisy”:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sometimes it’s best to clean them up. Finally the newest image from Curiosity’s mastcam:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Monday night should see the launch of an Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. Onboard will be the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) probe.

MAVEN will be collecting data related to the martian atmosphere and will help scientists determine what factors contributed to its eventual loss, a process that resulted in (what may have been) a lush world with liquid water into the barren desert world.

Scientists think that a few different factors could have driven the escape of Mars’ atmosphere, according to NASA:

  • Kinetic Energy: Molecules in the atmosphere of Mars could naturally bounce off of one another, making the high-energy atoms in the upper atmosphere escape into space. This could be the reason Mars lost hydrogen.
  • Photochemistery: Sunlight can create positive ions that can recombine with electrons and cause a reaction that energizes atoms, which then escape from the atmosphere.
  • Solar Wind: Magnetic field lines carried by solar wind could have carried charged molecules in Mars’ upper atmosphere into space.
  • Sputtering: Some ions, although very energetic, may not have escaped Mars and were hurled back into the atmosphere. If these charged particles hit other molecules, it could spur their acceleration, causing atmospheric loss.



This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. The composite incorporates a Navigation Camera image taken prior to the test, with insets taken by the camera in ChemCam.

The circular insert highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the rock.The test took place on Aug. 19, 2012.In the composite, the fist-sized rock, called “Coronation,” is highlighted. Coronation is the first rock on any extraterrestrial planet to be investigated with such a laser test.The widest context view in this composite comes from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera.

The magnified views in the insets come from ChemCam’s camera, the Remote Micro-Imager. The area shown in the circular inset is 6 centimeters (2.4 inches) in diameter. It was taken before the rock was hit with the laser. The area covered in the further-magnified square inset is 8 millimeters (about one-third of an inch) across. It combines information from images taken before and after the test, subtracting the “before” image from the “after” image to make the changes in the rock visible.Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) inaugurated use of its laser when it used the beam to investigate Coronation during Curiosity’s 13th day after landing.ChemCam hit Coronation with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivered more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The energy from the laser excited atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma.

ChemCam also caught the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzed it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target.This initial use of the laser on Mars served as target practice for characterizing the instrument but may provide additional value. Researchers will check whether the composition changed as the pulses progressed. If it did change, that could indicate dust or other surface material being penetrated to reveal different composition beneath the surface.ChemCam was developed, built and tested by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by France’s national space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and research agency, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project, including Curiosity, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the rover.

This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam,

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing (Repost)

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity’s drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

NASA has approved the Curiosity science team’s choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Today’s drive confirmed the health of Curiosity’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission’s lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.

“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” Heverly said.

Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover’s mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft’s landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.

The instrument’s principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. “These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit,” Weins said.

Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His groundbreaking works include “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of “Moby Dick,” and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.”

JPL manages the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Curiosity SOL12

Curiosity is back! following the software update the camera’s are back photographing the surroundings including the final target for the rover. Mount Sharp.

Mount Sharp is what Curiosity will be scaling, just as mountains and cliffs give geologists here on Earth a history of our planet through the various layers. Curiosity will be using its extensive cameras and scientific equipment to probe the layers uncovering more about the past history on Mars.

Also new footage has emerged from the landing the first image shows the heat shield impacting the ground:

And another showing the gentle landing on the surface:

I would also like to introduce you to something:

This is N165 and shortly it will be vaporised. Curiosity will aim it’s chemical camera (ChemCam) at the rock and fire a laser at it. As the rock is vaporised the camera will look at the plasma created and determine the composition of the rock. Now no-one is expecting a fossilised martial to be in there and N165 is pretty ordinary for a rock (albeit on Mars) but it’s a nice target to make sure the camera is working. And as usual, the images and data will be on here as soon as it’s available.

Curiosity Update

After a quiet few days Curiosity has now upgraded the software from flight programmes to the exploration programmes. And the images are coming back in

Click to enlarge

See the little joystick looking thing? Its main purpose is to calibrate the camera’s there’s four coloured blocks to calibrate the colour images and near the central column is a greyscale one.

“Following the successful landing of the Curiosity rover, it is gratifying indeed to see the third MarsDial© photometric calibration (cal) target on the planet Mars. It is something near and dear to me personally, and it’s good for all of us, because it helps us do good science.

As I’m sure you’re aware, geologists love rocks, and they especially love the rocks on Mars. The first thing they all want to know about a rock is what’s it made of. For that, it’s good to just take a look at the color of the rock surface. When everything is being done on the alien landscape of another world, it’s easy enough to electronically get the color wrong, or not quite right. To that end, artists, photographers, and a few scientists have noticed that by looking at the color of a shadow on a neutral white or gray background, you can infer the color contributed to the scene by the sky.”
(Original source)

It also has a second purpose, it’s also a sundial. It was the brainchild of popular Scientist Bill Nye (The Science guy)

There’s still plenty of checks to be carried out but fingers crossed that Curiosity will take its first steps next week with some basic checks.

High resolution images, a software update and a meteor.

Remember the panorama photo? well now the high resolution images are coming in so NASA has been able to put this together:

Click to enlarge

This is seriously cool and the detail in the blast patterns is lovely and clear. However Curiosity is now undergoing a software upgrade where the landing software is replaced with the software that will enable it to drive to its objective, one of the other staggering facts is the hardware on Curiosity isn’t some state of the art processor or terabytes of RAM, in fact it contains only a modest 2GB flash memory and a 200MHz processor. In fact it’s highly likely your phone packs more power. Because of this the images coming back will be few and far between, however as soon as they start coming in they’ll be on here.

And finally a reminder that it’s perseid time again. Keep looking to the sky over the next few nights to see some excellent meteors and check out @VirtualAstro on Twitter for the latest updates.

More Curiosity images

Gale crater (Click for 3600 x 750 image)

More images from Curiosity including this gorgeous panorama of Gale Crater, the original is huge so click to enjoy. It’s made of tiny thumbnails so it’s the highest quality the cameras are capable of. However with the limited bandwidth available on Mars there’s slightly more important things to be doing such as checking out all the systems.

It is intersting to see the 2 grey patches on the ground. What you see there is the rock of Mars – which, like the moon- is covered in dust. The rocket blasts from the sky crane have blown it aside, speaking of which, another image from Mars has raised a few eyebrows.

Notice the small dark blur on the horizon. Judging from the cameras position and the time it is highly likely that blur is the plume from the Skycrane impacting the surface. The Sky crane is the large black smudge on the surface showing the other debris of the landing.

This full-resolution image shows part of the deck of NASA’s Curiosity rover taken from one of the rover’s Navigation cameras looking toward the back left of the rover.

On the left of this image, part of the rover’s power supply is visible. To the right of the power supply can be seen the pointy low-gain antenna and side of the paddle-shaped high-gain antenna for communications directly to Earth. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon. The effects of the descent stage’s rocket engines blasting the ground can be seen on the right side of the image, next to the rover.


This Picasso-like self portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover was taken by its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover, while pointing down at the rover deck, up and straight ahead. Those images are shown here in a polar projection. Most of the tiles are thumbnails, or small copies of the full-resolution images that have not been sent back to Earth yet. Two of the tiles are full-resolution.


All Images belong to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltec.