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Curiosity zaps Mars

Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 04:32 PM

Zap! An artist's interpretation of Curiosity on Mars. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NASA)

We're pretty stoked about Curiosity's 15th day on the Red Planet, and the completion of its (his? her?) first technical maneuver: shooting more than a million watts of power over and over again at an 8mm patch of Mars surface, known as N165, or its street name, Coronation. The laser shooting was an intergalactic first. Take that, little rock!

The experiment was the debut of ChemCam, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, which in shooting the rock, ionizes it, creating a glowing plasma. You may not know this (or you may know way more than this), but elements, when heated, glow in various colors; in making the rock pulse brightly, scientists can identify what elements the rocks are made of. Pretty important if you're looking for hints that Mars might be a little like Earth.

Now, as you read this (assuming you do so in the year 2012, in the month of August), Curiosity is preparing to roll to Glenelg -- a place we can only remember how to spell because it's a palindrome... a purposeful choice for the researchers, who wanted a written way to point out that Curiosity will be passing Glenelg at least twice during its mission on Mars.

But for now, the rover's way off in a dusty, rocky crater, getting ready for its first-ever roll -- the first drive after a very long flight. To help get your imagination in the zone, check out some of our favorite Martian landscapes snapped by our little photog over the last two weeks (and for even more details on all the photos, definitely check out the links provided; you'll feel like a cool, verifiable, planetary scientist):

Coronation, in the left-hand side of the picture, sits to the right of the rover. Pretty tiny, up there in vast space. For both a rover and a rock.


Just in case you were wondering, a close-up to the rock of interest. Which, as it happens, also has its own Twitter meme. If N165 tweets back, suddenly Mars just got even more interesting.

A 360-degree Martian Panorama, of lands you and I have never seen. (Take a moment to appreciate that.) The base of Mount Sharp is over there in the top left.

We like this because it gives you a full scope of where Curiosity is in the Martian landscape. Mount Sharp, the Rover's future destination after Glenelg, presides in the distance. 

This photo is worth looking at just to get an idea of the … non-descriptness of what scientists are looking at, and for, out there on the Red Planet. The insets point out rocks of interest, notable for their length (1-4 inches) and composition (fragments/dust/clast). Clast, for all those wondering (according to Wiki): "Clastic rocks are composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing minerals and rock fragments. Geologists use the term clastic with reference to sedimentary rocks as well as to particles in sediment transport whether in suspension or as bed load, and in sediment deposits." So, there.



In this cylindrical image, it appears as if you are tucked beneath the rover, a rare human oasis in Gale Crater, peering out into the vastness.




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Comments [3]

Leroy Hawkins from Leroy Pa., USA

To Laura of Canada who reminded me of the first time I was awed by a shooting star.

I'm 62 and find lack of curiosity quite curious. Alas it is true that the average person does not give the natural universe much thought. I found out about the Coronation from a podcast by 'radio lab' not through the networks who job it isto inform the public - I'll confirm this later to be fair. My curiosity led me here that's a good deal to have other choices beside NASA or the Natural Museum of Science.

Aug. 26 2012 07:25 PM
Laurie from Ottawa

How lucky am I! To be of an age that still allows Curiosity to fill me with amazement and awe. Everything about it fills me with amazement and awe; the technology of the device, the flight, the landing, the photos... The photos! Clear, mysterious, and on my lap top mere hours after having been taken! Taken on Mars!


I pity the young people who grew up with the rovers, who find this familiar and normal, whose sense of awe doesn't rise above "Yeah...whatever."

Aug. 23 2012 02:47 PM
Krystal from Little Rock, AR

What is the background music playing when they were looking at the stars on Fire Island? It had beautiful choir vocals and violins. It made my brain happy! :D

Aug. 23 2012 10:02 AM

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