Space

Curiosity begins new year of exploration

Curiosity begins new year of e...
Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)
Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)
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"Rocknest Wind Drift" documenting where soil samples were collected (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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"Rocknest Wind Drift" documenting where soil samples were collected (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Close up of scoop areas at “Rocknest” (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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Close up of scoop areas at “Rocknest” (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Close up of sand particles at "Rocknest" (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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Close up of sand particles at "Rocknest" (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Collage showing the variety of soils found at landing sites on Mars including Viking, Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover and Curiosity (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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Collage showing the variety of soils found at landing sites on Mars including Viking, Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover and Curiosity (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Rock outcrop informally named "Shaler" at Glenelg (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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Rock outcrop informally named "Shaler" at Glenelg (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
“Shaler” as seen from one of NASA Mars rover Curiosity’s navigation cameras (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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“Shaler” as seen from one of NASA Mars rover Curiosity’s navigation cameras (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Mosaic self-portrait NASA Mars rover Curiosity taken by its Mars Hand Lens Imager (Image: NASA//JPL-Caltech)
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Mosaic self-portrait NASA Mars rover Curiosity taken by its Mars Hand Lens Imager (Image: NASA//JPL-Caltech)
"Yellowknife Bay" as seen from one of Curiosity’s navigation cameras (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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"Yellowknife Bay" as seen from one of Curiosity’s navigation cameras (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity;’s travels since touching down at "Bradbury Landing" (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity;’s travels since touching down at "Bradbury Landing" (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
Edge of "Yellowknife Bay" (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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Edge of "Yellowknife Bay" (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The sinuous rock feature called "Snake River." (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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The sinuous rock feature called "Snake River." (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
First use of Mars rover Curiosity's dust removal tool (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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First use of Mars rover Curiosity's dust removal tool (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Close-up of brushed area on Martian rock target 'Ekwir_1' (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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Close-up of brushed area on Martian rock target 'Ekwir_1' (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Diagram of Curiosity (Image: NASA)
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Diagram of Curiosity (Image: NASA)
Scale diagram of Curiosity (Image: NASA)
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Scale diagram of Curiosity (Image: NASA)
Diagram of Curiosity's hand (Image: NASA)
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Diagram of Curiosity's hand (Image: NASA)
Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)
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Artist's impression of the Curiosity rover (Image: NASA)
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NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover ended its holiday break this week and resumed its travels across the Red Planet. The unmanned nuclear-powered explorer drove about 10 feet (3 m) northwestward to a sinuous rock feature called ”Snake River.” This brings its total driving distance since touching down at Bradbury Landing on August 6 to 2,303 feet (702 m). As part of its next phase of exploration, Curiosity tested its motorized brush for the first time and is seeking a target for its sampling drill.

Snake River is located in a region of Mars called "Yellowknife Bay," which is a shallow depression that is flatter and lighter-toned than areas previously explored by Curiosity. "[Snake River is] one piece of the puzzle," said mission project scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology. "It has a crosscutting relationship to the surrounding rock and appears to have formed after the deposition of the layer that it transects."

First use of Mars rover Curiosity's dust removal tool (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
First use of Mars rover Curiosity's dust removal tool (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The 4x4-sized Curiosity’s current task is to help mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California evaluate candidates for the first use of the rover’s hammering drill. This drill, which is located in the “hand” of Curiosity’s robotic arm, collects powdered samples from the interior of rocks to be analyzed by Curiosity’s onboard laboratories. As part of this evaluation, Curiosity spent its holiday taking images of the surrounding area searching for interesting rock formations.

This week additionally saw the first use of Curiosity’s brush, which is also located in the rover’s hand. Built by Honeybee Robotics, the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) is a motorized, wire-bristle brush designed to clear away the rust-red dust and sand that covers most of the Martian surface, so that the drill has a clear target. This also helps Curiosity in using its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and the Mars Hand Lens Imager.

Mosaic self-portrait NASA Mars rover Curiosity taken by its Mars Hand Lens Imager (Image: NASA//JPL-Caltech)
Mosaic self-portrait NASA Mars rover Curiosity taken by its Mars Hand Lens Imager (Image: NASA//JPL-Caltech)

For its first test, the DRT was used on a rock designated "Ekwir_1." Sweeping away dust may seem like a simple task, but according to Diana Trujillo of JPL, that’s not the case. "We need to place the instrument within less than half an inch of the target without putting the hardware at risk," she said. "We needed a flat target, one that wasn't rough, one that was covered with dust. The results certainly look good."

Curiosity’s latest tasks are part of its two-year mission to seek out areas of Mars where life may have once or still could exist.

The JPL video below is Curiosity’s greeting shown in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Source: JPL

Curiosity's New Year Greeting for Times Square

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