Sol 3: Beautiful, Beautiful Mars Dirt. In Color.

Rocks and regolith strewn over the ground near Mars rover Curiosity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Rocks and regolith strewn over the ground near Mars rover Curiosity. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It looks like rocks and dust, right? Actually, it resembles the dusty parking lot near a beach where my family used to holiday when I was young — a sandy, ruddy, dusty patch devoid of grass where cars had worn down the top layer of dirt, exposing smoothed rock underneath. However, this isn’t a parking lot. Actually, scrub that, it IS a parking lot — Mars rover Curiosity’s parking lot in Aeolis Palus, a remarkably smooth plain inside Gale Crater on Mars.

I don’t have an awful lot to say about these new high-resolution images that have just been uploaded to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission site except that I really wish I were a geologist! I get the feeling that these images from a never before seen region of Mars will keep geologists busy for some time to come.

As Curiosity undergoes a software upgrade preparing it for surface operations, we’ve been patiently waiting for the mission site to upload new images (beyond the color thumbnail teasers) of the surrounding area. And it seems that on Saturday night that happened. Here are some of my favorite views from Curiosity’s Mastcam:

Curiosity's sundial on its deck reads: "Mars 2012 -- To Mars To Explore"
Curiosity’s sundial on its deck reads: “Mars 2012 — To Mars To Explore”
Discoloration in the top soil in the location of a crater formed by Curiosity's Sky Crane rockets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Discoloration in the top soil in the location of a crater formed by Curiosity’s Sky Crane rockets. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The deployed high-gain antenna. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The deployed high-gain antenna. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The crater rim and detail of undulating terrain -- possibly dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The crater rim and detail of undulating terrain — possibly dunes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

6 thoughts on “Sol 3: Beautiful, Beautiful Mars Dirt. In Color.”

  1. These are some very fascinating pictures. They are printed in such a good and clear resolution. I do know a few skeptics about the whole space travel thing who never believed any of the space pictures shown to the public. But this set of Mars pictures are so clear. This cannot be faked. I wish they do another moon landing, that would be something exciting to look forward to. Or maybe this time around they can try sending astronauts to a planet.

  2. I’ve become curious why the sky crane was crashed instead of set down gently (if dustily). Fuel didn’t seem to be the reason, in the event. Is it that the rover itself was part of the guidance and feedback system, so the sky crane couldn’t stabilize itself, find a flat site, measure its rate of descent, etc. after the rover separation? Or was it just the extra planning and costs that would have been involved? It seems to me that NASA wouldn’t crash things it has an option to set down nicely, even if only to reduce contamination.

  3. I’m curious about why they just told the sky crane to fly off and crash. Why not fly off, land gracefully (though dustily), and keep the destruction/contamination to a minimum? In the actual event there was enough extra fuel… what is just about simplifying the plan, or did the sky crane lose some of its sensors and capabilities when it detached from the rover?

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