NASA shows first 'crime scene' photo of Mars landing

Aug 07, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan
The four main pieces of hardware that arrived on Mars with NASA's Curiosity rover were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image about 24 hours after landing. The large, reduced-scale image points out the strewn hardware: the heat shield was the first piece to hit the ground, followed by the back shell attached to the parachute, then the rover itself touched down, and finally, after cables were cut, the sky crane flew away to the northwest and crashed. Relatively dark areas in all four spots are from disturbances of the bright dust on Mars, revealing the darker material below the surface dust. Around the rover, this disturbance was from the sky crane thrusters, and forms a bilaterally symmetrical pattern. The darkened radial jets from the sky crane are downrange from the point of oblique impact, much like the oblique impacts of asteroids. In fact, they make an arrow pointing to Curiosity. This image was acquired from a special 41-degree roll of MRO, larger than the normal 30-degree limit. It rolled towards the west and towards the sun, which increases visible scattering by atmospheric dust as well as the amount of atmosphere the orbiter has to look through, thereby reducing the contrast of surface features. Future images will show the hardware in greater detail. Our view is tilted about 45 degrees from the surface (more than the 41-degree roll due to planetary curvature), like a view out of an airplane window. Tilt the images 90 degrees clockwise to see the surface better from this perspective. The views are primarily of the shadowed side of the rover and other objects. The image scale is 39 centimeters (15.3 inches) per pixel. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

About 36 hours after NASA landed its $2.5 billion rover on Mars, it released Tuesday what it jokingly dubbed a "crime scene" aerial shot of where the parachute, heat shield and vehicle came down.

The touchdown on August 6 of the Mars Science Laboratory involved the most elaborate attempt yet to drop a robotic car on the surface of the Red Planet, and required a heat shield, supersonic parachute and rocket-powered sky crane.

The process, known as entry, descent and landing, or EDL, was referred to as "Seven Minutes of Terror" by NASA, but went off without a hitch, in what US President Barack Obama called an "unprecedented feat of technology."

On approach, a heat shield protected the Curiosity rover's fiery entry into Mars' atmosphere, a supersonic parachute deployed to slow it down, and the spacecraft back shell separated.

Then, a rocket powered backpack was fired to power the one-ton rover downward before it was lowered by nylon tethers. The sky crane was designed to detach and fly away to crash somewhere to the north.

The latest black and white picture released Tuesday was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as it flew about 300 kilometers (185 miles) above the landing site of Gale Crater, near Mars' equator.

It shows the Mars Science Laboratory rover, nicknamed Curiosity, with the now defunct sky crane about 650 meters (yards) away to the northwest.

The parachute and backshell of the spacecraft that separated before it lowered down landed about 615 meters away from the rover to the southwest.

Graphic on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory landing, as well as previous touchdowns for rovers and landers on the Red Planet.

The heat shield appears to be about 1,200 meters from the rover to the southeast.

"This is like a crime scene photo here," said Sarah Milkovich, a NASA scientist who is the lead investigator of the HiRISE camera on the Mars orbiter.

"Hopefully in our future images we be able to get even better, more detail," she said, adding that the dark areas in the photo show where dust was kicked up during the landing.

The EDL team has reviewed the latest photos and said "the layout looks kind of the way they expected," according to mission manager Mike Watkins.

The pieces will likely stay on Mars. There are no plans to recover them to bring back to Earth.

NASA is continuing to run tests on the various instruments on board the rover, which aim to help hunt for signs that life may once have existed on Earth's neighbor planet, once believed to be a wetter place than it is today.

So far most of the checks have gone well and the rover appears to be in good shape.

On Wednesday, NASA plans to lift the rover's remote sensing mast for the first time. More images, including color high-resolution shots, are expected to arrive in the coming days.

But the rover is not expected to start moving for several more weeks, and it may be a year before it reaches its scientific target of Mount Sharp.

Deputy project scientist Joy Crisp said the latest analysis shows that the rover is 6.5 kilometers from the base of the mountain, if it were to travel straight there.

However, scientists have warned it is difficult to estimate the exact start of the base and they have no plans to drive to it directly, but will likely take a more meandering route.

The Mars Science Laboratory is a nuclear-powered vehicle that is designed for a two-year robotic mission on Mars, though scientists hope it will last as least twice its original design life.

Explore further: MAVEN Mars spacecraft to begin orbit of Red Planet

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User comments : 17

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CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (9) Aug 07, 2012
I still wish NASA would have landed Curiosity near Valles Marineris.
SoylentGrin
5 / 5 (1) Aug 07, 2012
Boy, the Sky Crane really crashed, it looks like! Did one of the thrusters continue to burn for a while, causing that tendril of dark heading up and to the left?
The ground around Curiousity looks darker in a circle around it, too. Downwash?
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2012
Boy, the Sky Crane really crashed, it looks like! Did one of the thrusters continue to burn for a while, causing that tendril of dark heading up and to the left?
The ground around Curiousity looks darker in a circle around it, too. Downwash?

The article says the dark smudge is the crane hitting the ground and causing the lighter material on top to be blown away by the impact, revealing darker material under the surface layer.
ACW
Aug 07, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
Aug 07, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PhotonX
5 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2012
According to the article:
The pieces will likely stay on Mars. There are no plans to recover them to bring back to Earth.
Duh. If we are planning any kind of sample return mission, the very last things we would send are the defunct pieces of a spacecraft that started here to begin with. Or am I misreading it somehow?
Shabs42
5 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2012
You're reading correctly. I'm sure many years from now they will be returned and put on display. Maybe eventually the first museum on Mars...
Grizzled
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 08, 2012
Never mind Martian memorabilia. I'm pretty sure that if and when someone recovers Apollo or Soviet artefacts left on the Moon, they would be worth quite a bit, possibly enough to justify going looking after them even. Especially if you just happen to be in the neighbourhood.
GuruShabu
1 / 5 (7) Aug 08, 2012
All good but I would like to have a reasonable idea how far the parte of the spacecraft are.
How one can infer 39cm/pixel?!!
I know how to do that but NASA could make the life of a mortal easier just stamping there a standar scale in km and miles...don't you agree?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
I know how to do that but NASA could make the life of a mortal easier just stamping there a standar scale in km and miles...don't you agree?

Such pictures are usually meant for automatic processing via image segmentation algorithms (and no so much for publication reasons on websites). This kind of info is (implicitly) present in the file header.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 08, 2012
All good but I would like to have a reasonable idea how far the parte of the spacecraft are.
How one can infer 39cm/pixel?!!


scroll down past the advertisement and read the second half of the article. Here's the distances listed:

Skycrane - 650 meters, Parachute - 615 meters, Heat shield - 1200 meters. (distance from the rover)

Those are all close enough to go take a look. There is an obvious reason to go look at the heat shield and skycrane, because they may have made a shallow hole in the ground. The back-shell, which is still attached to the parachute, would have been moving too slowly to make much of a dent though. It looks like the skycrane might have made a good sized crater. Since Curiosity can't dig very deep, it might be handy to use this as an opportunity (no pun intended) to see a little bit deeper under the surface.

I hope they do go over and take a look. Too bad they are all in opposite directions. Murphy's law I guess.
HeloMenelo
1 / 5 (10) Aug 08, 2012
Man some of these photos look fishy, if you go to the nasa msl site they have individual pictures of each part that landed. Now what i don't get is first:
I don't see nothing at any of these sites accept the chute, just black, and no rover, or no crane ?? Furthermore, if you read the latest from Nasa they estimate the rover to be - six km from the foot of the mountain, however if you look at he individual photo on the msl site where the rover is suppose to be, it seems like it was lowered onto an area that transform from a flat surface, to a higher surface, it looks to be exactly on the foot of a hill or mount sharp,

Regardless of that, i don't even see a speck of the rover, just black.
HeloMenelo
1 / 5 (8) Aug 08, 2012
and then when you look at the images taken by the rover it all seems relatively flat for at least a couple hundred meters around it.
GSwift7
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 09, 2012
Regardless of that, i don't even see a speck of the rover, just black


That's correct. The rover itself is too small to get a whole pixel in those pics. The black marks are where the rocket engines on the skycrane blew a bunch of the lighter colored dust away from the landing site, which exposed the darker rocks underneath. There's a new hi-res picture from the lander where you can actually see a small depression that was blown out by the rockets while it landed. I'll bet if they try this again, they will think about making the skycrane cables longer. I don't think they wanted that much stuff getting blown into the rover. They are lucky if nothing got damaged by flying stones.

Ever stood in front of a leaf blower pointed at sand and gravel? Multiply that by several times I would guess. It takes a bit of effort to make a hole in the ground that deep with exhaust.
Oysteroid
1 / 5 (5) Aug 09, 2012
Don't spoil his fun GSwift. We are witnessing the birth of a new conspiracy theory here... probably not the first by now.
yyz
1 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2012
"The rover itself is too small to get a whole pixel in those pics."

Actually, the MSL rover covers several pixels and casts a visible shadow in the latest MRO oblique image: http://photojourn...6000.jpg

Perusal of the 2.6 Mb TIFF version of this image shows this more clearly: http://photojourn...PIA16000
GSwift7
1 / 5 (5) Aug 10, 2012
Actually, the MSL rover covers several pixels and casts a visible shadow in the latest MRO oblique image


That's correct, but the image above wasn't that good. He was talking about this specific picture.

At its best, the HiRISE camera can get .3 meters per pixel in monochrome, so at about 2 meters long, Curiosity and all of the pieces discarded before landing should be visible in the best photos from HiRISE. In a perfect HiRISE picture, you should be able to make out rough details on the rover, such as the mast and the wheels.
yyz
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2012
"He was talking about this specific picture."

If he was talking about the low-res version of the image at the top of the article, you are right, you can't clearly make out the outline of the MSL.

However HeloMenelo specifically mentioned "...if you go to the nasa msl site they have individual pictures of each part that landed." and "Regardless of that, i don't even see a speck of the rover, just black." Not true!

In all of the relevant MRO images of the landing site at the NASA JPL site, the MSL is clearly resolved, as in this "crime scene" oblique image from MRO: http://www.uahiri...ated.jpg

(I should note that all of the individual cropped images of the landing debris and the MSL were all derived from this "crime scene" image.)

But GSwift7, you are correct that MRO will be able to deliver superior resolution views of the equipment on the surface when imaging angles and lighting will be more favorable in the coming weeks and months.
pianoman
1 / 5 (6) Aug 12, 2012
They should have landed M.C. in Hale Crater not Gale Crater. Why? check for yourself----European Space Agency Hale Crater video. Massive Coverup