Full speed ahead

NASAs Curiosity rover has made its first test drive on Mars. On sol 16 the rover moved forward 4.5m, turned 120°, and finally reversed 2.5m, leaving behind a series of visible tracks at the Bradbury (recently named after the writer Ray Bradbury) landing site.

This overhead view taken by the NavCam shows the tracks created by Curiosity’s first test drive on the Martian surface. The tracks show the rover’s path as it moved forward, rotated and then reversed, leaving it 6m from it’s original landing site (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Curiosity’s first drive was an important part of its preparation for exploring the red planet. During the next two years the rover will drive over 20 km as it moves between many different rock outcrops, studying each with its collection of analytical apparatus and helping to determine the past and present habitability of Mars. The test drive, which took only 5 minutes to complete, was the first of several that will be used over the next week or so to confirm that the rover’s mobility system is fully functioning and able to withstand the much longer drives ahead. Although the major aim is Mt. Sharp at the centre of Gale crater, on the way Curiosity will first visit Glenelg, an outcrop where satellites show an intersection between 3 distinct rock types.

HazCam image of the tracks left by the Curiosity rover after its first test drive (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

On sol 21 Curiosity made another test drive, leaving a second (left-side) set of tracks (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

Whilst we’re on the subject of rock types, NASA have also released details of the spectrum collected by the ChemCam from Coronation rock. The rock contains elements such as Si, Fe, Al, and Ca, confirming that it’s likely a basalt. This a volcanic rock formed by the cooling of lava on or just below the surface and is common on Mars. The spectrum also showed C peaks, from the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere, and H, which interestingly was only seen in the first spectrum suggesting that it was present on the surface of the rock but not inside it.

Spectrum obtained by the ChemCam from 30 laser shots aimed at the Coronation rock on the surface of Mars. The chemical composition indicates that the rock is likely a basalt formed from a cooling lava. Note that the heights of the peaks in the spectrum do not indicate relative abundance as some elements emission lines are more easily excited than others (NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP).

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3 Responses to Full speed ahead

  1. Pingback: A busy week | Earth & Solar System

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