Spectacular images returned by NASAs Curiosity rover from the surface of Mars are enabling scientists to piece together a geological map of the rover’s landing site and surrounding area. The images, captured by the rover’s MastCam, suggest a terrain similar to that found in parts of the south-west USA and are being used to identify the first targets for the Curiosity rover to visit. They show several exciting features, including a network of valleys in the walls of Gale crater believed to have formed as water flowed into the crater, and layers of cobbles and pebbles set within a finer matrix.
The first high resolution colour mosaic taken by the MastCam on the Curiosity rover. The mosaic is made up of 79 smaller images and shows the geological environment around the rover’s landing site in Gale crater (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
Whilst the geologists have been busy constructing maps, engineers have been giving Curiosity a “brain transplant”. Like all modern computers, those onboard Curiosity need regular software updates. Having survived the journey and landing on Mars, over the weekend Curiosity’s computers were switched from flight mode to surface operations. The next aim is for Curiosity to start driving and moving it’s robotic arm and drill.
This image shows the wall of Gale crater north from Curiosity. The wall appears to have been eroded by water flowing into the crater. The image forms part of the larger mosaic shown above (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
Bedrock exposed by the blast of the rockets used to land Curiosity on Mars. There are clast-rich sedimentary layers containing both 3cm long pebbles, and larger clasts up to 11cm in length. The image has been “white balanced”, whereby the colours are corrected as if the scene were on Earth and illuminated by terrestrial sunlight. This helps geologists identify the rocks in the image by comparing them to those found on Earth (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).
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