8 August 2012

Sol 2 to 3: First Navcams, and some new craters

Posted by Ryan Anderson

Today was another successful day on Mars! I woke up at around 4am and ate a quick breakfast before heading to JPL for my uplink shift. I was on duty as science payload uplink lead 2 (sPUL2) again today, and again it was a boring day for ChemCam. The sPUL2’s job is pretty vague: we are supposed to double check any observations to make sure they don’t look at the sun, and generally assist the ChemCam engineering PUL2 if necessary. Since there wasn’t a lot going on today, I was given permission to attend the science discussion meeting, which occurs at the end of the first shift. As I said yesterday, science discussion is way more fun than uplink meetings!

There was a lot of excitement today because the remote sensing mast successfully deployed and overnight we received the first full-resolution images from the navigation cameras. They revealed a gravely foreground of rolling terrain, marred by blast zones from the Skycrane’s rockets. These scoured areas revealed that there is only a thin layer of gravel and sand on top of what looks like either bedrock or much coarser chunks of rock. The early Navcam images also reveal a spectacular landscape, with a parched rocky plain in the foreground and the eroded crater rim in the distance. If you didn’t know better, you might think it was a view of the Mojave desert on earth!

Early navcam view of Gale crater. The mountains in the distance are the crater rim. In the foreground you can see two dark, rocky areas surrounded by a lighter halo that were formed by the skycrane rockets.

Later in the day, a bunch more navcam images came down, and I had lots of fun squinting at them and taking in the local scenery. Unfortunately I don’t think they have been publicly released yet, so you will have to wait a bit to see them. To me, one of the most exiting things so far has been the gradual revelation of our surroundings as we get more and more instruments online. We started with the dirty, fish-eyed hazcam images right after landing. Then came the MAHLI thumbnails which helped us narrow down our landing location. Now we are getting our first good look around with Navcam, and soon we should start seeing high-resolution color images from Mastcam. It’s as if a veil is slowly being lifted, giving us an ever-improving view of Curiosity’s home.

The other exciting development today was that the context camera on MRO has discovered the craters created by the six tungsten masses that were jettisoned after the guided entry part of the descent was over. These chunks of metal careened down and impacted the lower mound to the east of the rover’s landing location. Their impact site is too far away to be reachable by the rover, but these artificial craters could still be scientifically useful because we know exactly how much energy the ballast masses had when they impacted. Studying their impacts might help understand the small natural impacts that are often seen in HiRISE and CTX images.

Fresh impact craters formed by the ballast masses ejected after guided entry was finished.

We have also started getting more full-resolution images from the descent imager. My personal favorite is this spectacular view of the heat shield falling away from the rover:

Full-res MARDI image of the heat shield falling away, with the dark sand dunes of the landing site visible far below.

So, even though it was a slow day for ChemCam as the rover continues the commissioning phase, the latest images were plenty tantalizing to keep me busy! I’m looking forward to even more tomorrow!