Mars rover Curiosity targets unusual rock enroute to first destination

September 20, 2012
The drive by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the mission's 43rd Martian day, or sol, (Sept. 19, 2012) ended with this rock about 8 feet (2.5 meters) in front of the rover. The rock is about 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The rover team has assessed it as a suitable target for the first use of Curiosity's contact instruments on a rock. The image was taken by the left Navigation camera (Navcam) at the end of the drive. The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." This commemorates Jacob Matijevic (1947-2012), who was the surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Project and the project's Curiosity rover. He was also a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity's contact instruments are on a turret at the end of the rover's arm. They are the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer for reading a target's elemental composition and the Mars Hand Lens Imager for close-up imaging. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(—NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has driven up to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover's arm to examine.

Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from the rover's landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg. In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.

Both the arm-mounted X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.

The rock has been named "Jake Matijevic." Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik) was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Laboratory and the project's Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64. Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA : Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters).

This map shows the route driven by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity through the 43rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (Sept. 19, 2012). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

"This robot was built to rove, and the team is really getting a good rhythm of driving day after day when that's the priority," said Project Manager Richard Cook of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The team plans to choose a rock in the Glenelg area for the rover's first use of its capability to analyze powder drilled from interiors of rocks. Three types of terrain intersect in the Glenelg area—one lighter-toned and another more cratered than the terrain Curiosity currently is crossing. The light-toned area is of special interest because it retains daytime heat long into the night, suggesting an unusual composition.

This mosaic from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity rover shows the view looking toward the "Glenelg" area, where three different terrain types come together. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

"As we're getting closer to the light-toned area, we see thin, dark bands of unknown origin," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "The smaller-scale diversity is becoming more evident as we get closer, providing more potential targets for investigation."

Researchers are using Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) to find potential targets on the ground. Recent new images from the rover's camera reveal dark streaks on rocks in the Glenelg area that have increased researchers' interest in the area. In addition to taking ground images, the camera also has been busy looking upward.

On two recent days, Curiosity pointed the Mastcam at the sun and recorded images of Mars' two moons, Phobos and Deimos, passing in front of the sun from the rover's point of view. Results of these transit observations are part of a long-term study of changes in the moons' orbits. NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived at Mars in 2004, also have observed solar transits by Mars' moons. Opportunity is doing so again this week.

"Phobos is in an orbit very slowly getting closer to Mars, and Deimos is in an orbit very slowly getting farther from Mars," said Curiosity's science team co-investigator Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. "These observations help us reduce uncertainty in calculations of the changes."

In Curiosity's observations of Phobos this week, the time when the edge of the moon began overlapping the disc of the sun was predictable to within a few seconds. Uncertainty in timing is because Mars' interior structure isn't fully understood.

Phobos causes small changes to the shape of Mars in the same way Earth's moon raises tides. The changes to Mars' shape depend on the Martian interior which, in turn, cause Phobos' orbit to decay. Timing the orbital change more precisely provides information about Mars' interior structure.

During Curiosity's two-year prime mission, researchers will use the rover's 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Explore further: Curiosity rover begins eastbound trek on Martian surface

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1 / 5 (2) Sep 20, 2012
Curious if any lander/rover has taken a picture of Phobos and Deimos at night? Presumably they are smaller than Earth's moon in the sky, but don't believe I have ever come across a night time photo of the Mars moons. Would they not be lit by the sun and have phases like our moon?
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
They would, but would the rover cameras be sensitive enough to see them? Also, the earlier rovers were all solar powered, so the instruments were usually turned off at night to save battery power. Curiosity can run day or night, so if its cameras can see in dim light, we may see some moon pictures.
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 20, 2012
It's a pyramid!
Martians are tiny creatures like from Gulliver's Travels!
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 20, 2012
The moons orbit at 1.4 and 3.5 Martian diameters. This is close enough that Phobos is eclipsed almost every night, and since it is dark as coal, it would be nearly invisible. Deimos is small enough and far enough away that it would appear about the size that Venus appears in our night sky. Its distance means it is less useful for studying the Martian gravitational field and thus the Martian interior than Phobos. It is unlikely that either of these objects will be targeted for night photography.
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 20, 2012
"Curious if any lander/rover has taken a picture of Phobos and Deimos at night?"

The rover Spirit captured both Phobos and Deimos in the night sky of Mars back in 2005: http://marsrovers...09a.html
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
i would like to see Phobos used as a rotovater by draping a net over it and attach a long tether to it than drop and pick up stuff to/fromm the surface, this will shorten phobos lifetime with thousands of years, but millions of pounds can be hauled this way (phobos mass is estimated at 1.08e 16 kg, so we can haul some serious stuff before loss of orbit and tidal forces break it up. Also the thinner marsian atmosphere imposes less friction on the supersonic tether than a space tether in earth orbit would experience.
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
It's a pyramid!

Pharoah Marvin the Martian was vewwy, vewwy tiny... :-)
not rated yet Sep 20, 2012
it is a marker much like a milestone. It says Cydonia 45mi."see the face on Mars!!!" (on the other side).
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
Could this be a "Sailing rock"?
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
Barakn: True, but it should be possible to to get a picture after sunset, or before sunrise, when the moon is close to the horizon. A "full moon" shot wouldn't be possible.

Rgrgon: Hope it doesn't say "Wall Drug, 284.1 million kilometers"! (distance as of 05:14 UTC 2012-09-21) according to the Mars24 utility)
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
sirchick - without flowing water? Highly unlikely. This small piece of rock is a prime example of a ventifact. Typical for arid environments shaped by mostly aeolian processes.
1 / 5 (3) Sep 21, 2012
The symmetry of the object/rock is unusual, more like a crystal form in design. The pitting and surface texture resemble that of a ventifact, however the shape would be less symmetric. It must be a martian mile marker. Bread crumb? The martians really now how to tease us.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
Would they not be lit by the sun and have phases like our moon?

The Mars moons are very close to Mars. Phobos is about 20k km above the surface while Deimos is merely 6k km high
(For comparison: the distance Earth-Moon is about 360k km)

So the Mars moons (during the sol-night) will mostly be in the shadow of Mars (i.e. not very visible). There's a lot of 'lunar eclipses' but no full solar eclipses (while the sun is smaller as seen from Mars and the moons are close to the observer they are also very small).

Here's a snapshot taken by Curiosity of Phobos getting in fornt of the sun.

5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2012
Lace - -_-' are you serious? Or do you really want to see what you want to see?


Need more evidence or would you rather stay in your imaginary world of aliens?
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
What are the economics of Mars gold? A large lander/return vehicle's max payload is probably only ~10T=20,000lbs*16oz/lb=320,000oz*$1000/lb= $320M. Nope.
not rated yet Sep 21, 2012
You'd make more money bringing back Martian sand and selling it to collectors. No processing needed, just grab and go. For gold, go to an asteroid, where takeoffs are much easier.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2012
sirchick - without flowing water? Highly unlikely. This small piece of rock is a prime example of a ventifact. Typical for arid environments shaped by mostly aeolian processes.

I don't think you understand what a "Sailing rocks/stones" is but here is the wiki for ya :)


This is what i believe the rock might be. There is no track how ever due to the winds on Mars, just a guess of course :)

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