Posts Tagged ‘photos’

One Year on Mars for Curiosity

Posted by Zoe on 5th August 2013 in Exogeology, Main Page, Petra's Blog

One year ago, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.

Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), descended to the surface of Mars at 10:32 p.m. PDT on August 5, 2012 using the science fiction-sounding “sky crane” to land precisely, and thankfully, successfully.

Since that day, Curiosity has had an exciting year. In no particular order, here are a few of the rover’s major events, efforts, and discoveries:

  • Landing safely, of course.
  • Sending home her first pictures. There’s nothing like seeing an alien vista for the first time. We had seen this area of Mars from above, but when Curiosity snapped her first few photos and sent them back to Earth, we were at ground level, close up. We saw Gale crater in a way we never had before.
  • Curiosity's first image taken from the surface of Mars. (Image credit: NASA)

  • Finding rounded rocks in a riverbed. Apart from all the alliteration, this discovery is notable because it pertains to water in Mars’ past. These rocks tumbled around as they were pushed downstream by the current. They knocked into each other and became smaller and smoother and more worn down the farther they went. This happens here on Earth, which you might have noticed, and it’s why river rocks and smooth and rounded.

Rounded river rocks on Mars (left) and Earth (right). Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI

  • An anomaly with one of her computers’ memory and a switch to the second computer.
  • Starting to use her fancy science tools. Curiosity really is a Mars Science Laboratory. She has several cameras for navigation and taking pictures of the scenery which give you an idea of what the various sights like rock outcroppings, sand, river rocks, and everything else look like. She has a drill for taking samples. She has a scoop for…taking samples. Those last two, along with some other instruments, are on Curiosity’s robotic arm. She has spectrometers to identify materials using the light spectrum. She has a laser. With all these awesome tools and more, it’s pretty exciting that Curiosity has been using these tools throughout the past year.

Holes from Curiosity's drill (large hole) and laser ChemCam (small holes) in a rock called Cumberland. Image credit NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

  • Trying to discover whether Mars has ever had a habitable environment. This one isn’t over, it’s ongoing. In fact, it’s one of Curiosity’s primary goals. An event relating to this goal is the time Curiosity found a rock sample that shows Mars may once have been habitable for microbes. There was also the time when she found evidence of water in a place called Yellowknife Bay.  Or course, I can’t wait to see what other evidence Curiosity might find.

But, Curiosity’s not done yet. The rover is on her way Mount Sharp. She’s finally driving, and even though it’s hard to leave behind the rocks nearer to the landing site, Mount Sharp promises to be even more intriguing. Why are we looking forward to investigating Mount Sharp? Well, it’s made up of layers. The layers in Mount Sharp might show us more about what Mars’ climate was like long ago and all the changes it has been through. How cool is that?

If you ask me, everything Curiosity has done in her first one year on Mars has been very cool.

-Petra Stone

Congratulations, Curiosity!

Posted by Zoe on 6th August 2012 in Exogeology, Main Page, Petra's Blog

Tonight, Curiosity reached its destination: Gale Crater, Mars.

Curiosity's first image taken from the surface of Mars. Woo-hoo! (Image credit: NASA)

Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), traveled for about 352 million miles (567 million km) from a cleanroom at JPL on Earth to a place called Mount Sharp in Gale Crater on Mars. It’s hard to imagine traveling so far.

Curiosity's cleanroom, way back in 2010.

Mount Sharp, the area on Mars Curiosity will explore. (Image credit: NASA)

Tonight, August 5, Curiosity’s team worked through the “Seven Minutes of Terror” while everyone else, including myself, just hoped and wished for the best.

Can you even imagine how hard it would be to land a rover? Can you imagine just how nervous you’d be that all the work put into Curiosity would either have the chance to succeed amazingly or just fail terribly? I can’t, but that’s what Curiosity’s team must have felt.

Landing Curiosity had several stages. (Image credit: NASA)

Finally, can you imagine the relief and excitement as Curiosity landed safely on solid ground? I can, but not even half as much as Curiosity’s team, I’m sure.

I’m so, so glad Curiosity made the landing safely. Congratulations, Curiosity! You ROCK!


Posted by Zoe on 15th April 2010 in Main Page

I finally finished the Exogeology ROCKS! website! Look around! Everything’s up and running. Let’s go over all that I have so you don’t miss a thing:

Good question! This page explains the basic concept of exogeology. Look at it first, so you can better understand the rest of the site.

What is the Exogeology ROCKS! website all about? I’ve explained here why I made the website, what there is to do on it, and a bit about myself.

This is the best part! :) I made a 20 minute episode of Exogeology ROCKS!, and a 3 minute bonus track on Pluto. Don’t miss either one! Episode One of Exogeology ROCKS! features an interview with a planetary astronomer, Dr. Larry Lebofsky from Tucson, Arizona, and was made to show that exogeology really does ROCK!

After watching Exogeology ROCKS!, I bet you’ll want to know how to become an exogeologist yourself. I’ve created this page to show you how to do just that.

Want to know more about what life is like for a real exogeologist? Read Petra’s Blog, a blog written by me as the fictional exogeologist Petra Stone. Petra writes about her favorite experiences in exogeology, and exogeology in general. There are tons of posts with lots of information, so go to Petra’s Blog and start reading!

Play a crossword puzzle, search in a crossword puzzle, and solve online jigsaw puzzles in this fun category.

There are a wide variety of things you’ll see on the job as an exogeologist. Each set of photographs in the gallery shows you some of those, along with a short description about what you see. Have fun looking around, because these photos ROCK!

Have you read everything on Exogeology ROCKS! and you want to find out more? Here are some great links to get you started.

If you have any suggestions about how to improve my site, add more info, or make it more fun, use the “Contact Me” form to send me your reviews.

You can get to any of these pages from the sidebar on the right hand side of the page. I’ve put a lot of effort into this, so don’t miss out! There are lots of rockin’ things to do!

Until next time, I’m Zoë Bentley, and Exogeology ROCKS!

New Photo Gallery!

Posted by Zoe on 13th April 2010 in Main Page

Hello out there! It’s Zoë again with great news! I now have a working Photo Gallery up. Petra posted new blogs recently too, about a post per day, so keep checking up on her on Exogeology ROCKS!

The photo gallery is over on the sidebar underneath the “Games and Puzzles” category. I’ve made 5 different sets of photographs: Mineral and Rock Samples, Geologic Formations, Astronomy Pictures, Spacecraft and Landers, and Telescopes and Observatories. Check them all out! Each photo has a great description of whatever it has in it, and the pictures ROCK!

Until next time, I’m Zoë Bentley and Exogeology ROCKS!

About Me

Posted by Petra on 11th April 2010 in Petra's Blog

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll already know me a bit. But I want to give you a better idea of what I’m like. For starters, I’m Petra Stone, an exogeologist. I love geology and astronomy, but I also love writing and traveling. The following are some questions that I’m often asked by people:

What are you currently working on?

  • I’m currently in Iceland working and studying glacial formations. This is research for the Mars mission I’m working on which is going to Mars’ north pole.

What is your favorite planet?

  • My favorite planet is Mars, because I think the geology is fascinating.

What is your favorite color?

  • Purple, of course! That’s why the planet on this website is purple! :)

What is the best project you have worked on?

  • My favorite projects to work on have included: identifying Martian rocks, using relative dating on alien formations, and traveling to far-off locations around Earth. I’ve never been off of Earth, but I’m sure it would an amazing experience. I’ve worked with several astronauts here at NASA who have been off-world and they’ve told me some fantastic stories.

What things do you like to do (what are your hobbies)?

  • Other than my job, some of my hobbies are reading, jewelry making (I bead memory wire bracelets usually), rock collecting (I have a huge collection with geodes, and jasper, and malachite, oh my!), stargazing and learning the myths behind the constellations, and of course, writing this blog! I like finding unique arts and crafts projects too, that can be really fun. I also love hiking. I love getting a great view of the area, and it gives me a chance to look at the rocks. :)
  • Another interest of mine is photography. I can never get my regular camera to take great objects like the moon, but it’s fun to get photographs of other things. I’ve taken photos of places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, and whatever I want to keep a record of or I just think looks cool. It can come in handy to be a fairly good photographer when you’re classifying rock samples (I use several special cameras for my job), but what really ROCKS is when I have the opportunity to take photographs through a telescope. Telescopes at observatories have great cameras for visible and non-visible light! I could never get photographs like those with my own camera. To see some samples of these, be sure to check out the NASA image gallery!

What is your favorite movie and/or television show?

  • I like science fiction movies and TV shows best, but I also like mystery shows. I like non-fiction TV shows too, but I often find long documentaries too long–I prefer shows to have a fictional storyline if they’re going to be really long.  The exception to this is The Elegant Universe. If you’ve ever been interested in physics, that show will get you even more interested! Seeing that for the first time really piqued my interest in string theory and m-theory.
  • My favorite TV shows are The Universe, Doctor Who, and, of course, Star Trek (all series, but Voyager is my favorite).

What are your favorite books?

  • Books I like are usually fantasy, not science fiction. I really enjoyed the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, the Magyk series,  and similar types of novels. I also really enjoy reading non-fiction science, especially if it has to do with time travel! I read magazines, technical periodicals, as well as the latest papers that my colleagues publish.

Do you enjoy writing?

  • I absolutely love writing! I spend most of my time writing papers about geology and exogeology (since those are the topics I know best and they are what I spend most of my time researching), but every once in a while I’ll take an interest in other topics and feel like I just have to share my findings with the world!
  • I occasionally even write haiku! Here are two examples:

Twinkling balls of light
So many lightyears away
Estrellas lindas

Rocky Mars landscape
Red mesa towers above
Like Arizona

As you can see, there’s a lot more going in my life than just my job. However, exogeology just happens to be what I like most, and a lot of the things I like are somehow related (ultimately everything seems to be related if you think about it enough). That’s just what I like!  It’s why I became an exogeologist.

Games to Play and Puzzles to Solve

Posted by Zoe on 11th April 2010 in Main Page

More content, yay! Check out the Games and Puzzles page. It ROCKS! I made an exogeology crossword puzzle, an exogeology wordfind puzzle (printable only), and four awesome space jigsaw puzzles! The photographs used in the Earthrise, Galaxy, and Saturn jigsaw puzzles are all from NASA, and I took photograph in the Barringer Crater puzzle. Have fun!

Sometimes Being Stuck is a GOOD Thing!

Posted by Petra on 10th April 2010 in Petra's Blog

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, as  you may or may not have heard, is STUCK. Rover operators have tried all sorts of maneuvers to get Spirit out of the sand, but nothing has worked. I’m amazed at how persistent the rover team is on trying to free the rover. They’ve tried going backwards, and using the robotic arm to move the sand around Spirit. Still no good. Two of the wheels aren’t working now either. I can’t believe Spirit is in such a bad position. Of course this means it can’t go anywhere or see anything new, but…

Even if the rover doesn’t get out it can still be useful in such a way that it was never intended to be! The rover team has become very inventive in what they’ve thought to do with Spirit. Mars wobbles, or “precesses“, as it rotates on its axis. A stationary probe (like the stuck Spirit) would be very useful in measuring how Mars spins. The rover team has thought of a plan of how to measure this.  This is how looking past your problems and working with what you have, rather than what you wished you had, can be a really important skill!

Why exactly would we care about Mars’ wobble? Because how a planet precesses is slightly different depending on whether it has a solid or molten core. Earth has a molten core, but if its core were solid then our own planet’s wobble would be different. Wouldn’t that be weird? Not to mention Earth wouldn’t have a magnetic field. Exogeologists (myself included) want to know what Mars’ core is like, so measuring precession would give very good information on the interior structure of Mars. I’d find out so much more about the planets if I knew this. It would help a lot in understanding the way they all work.

There’s only one problem. Martian winter is coming soon! This means decreased sunlight for the solar powered rover. I’m not an expert on robotics, but I do know that if Spirit runs out of power (its “spirit”), it’ll go into hibernation and use the little sunlight it receives for solely charging its battery. When it’s in hibernation, a rover can’t communicate with Earth. That could be a big problem, I think, for the team of rover operators and for myself. I get lots of good data from that rover! What’s more, the rover has survived three winters before this by tilting its solar panels northward in order to get the best angle to the sun. But doing this isn’t possible in Spirit‘s current predicament. I sure hope this can be fixed before the season changes!

I hope you thought this was as interesting as I did, and I’d like to officially wish the Spirit rover team good luck!

I’m Petra Stone, and Exogeology ROCKS!

Thinking About Martian Sunrises

Posted by Petra on 7th April 2010 in Petra's Blog

Yellow in the clouds
Pink and purple everywhere
Blue and bright orange sky

Cholla sunrise

I stayed up late last night working on a project that’s due really soon, and I stayed up so late that I saw the sunrise before I went to bed. It was beautiful! The sky got slowly lighter, and in the East the sky just above the horizon was peach and red. The sky above that turned slowly bluer.

I couldn’t help thinking of what the sunrise on Mars would be like. The Martian sky is red because of all the dust (with iron) in the air, but it can refract light in a similar way to Earth’s atmosphere. So, if I were on Mars right then, the colors would be reversed. The sky would be turning a brighter shade of red, with the sky in the horizon looking a bit blue or green. It would be amazing! Someday Martian colonists will get to see those sunsets and sunrises. I’m not sure I could get used to that though. I love my Arizona sunrises and sunsets!

Exploring the Red Planet, Part Two, Mapping

Posted by Petra on 5th April 2010 in Petra's Blog

Photograph by NASA, found at

An important part of exogeology is exploring! Rovers on the surface and orbiters up above the surface both tell us a lot about the surface of Mars.

The Mariner spacecraft were the first to provide closeup photos of another planet. That’s really impressive. There were a lot of flybys and orbiters since then, and now NASA has an amazingly good photograph of how Mars looks from space.

The other part of mapping Mars is actually going down and looking at everything close up. Rovers and landers like Viking and the Mars Exploration rovers worked hard to do that. The Viking missions were the first successful Mars landers, and there’s a picture Viking 2 took in the photo gallery.

The Mars Exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have been exploring Mars for a lot longer than was expected, and I’m still receiving data! Someday there will even be astronauts going to Mars! Exogeology ROCKS!

Exploring the Red Planet, Part One, Water

Posted by Petra on 2nd April 2010 in Petra's Blog

Photograph by NASA, found at

I’ve been getting  some data from my favorite planet–Mars!

Mars being researched right now by people looking for water; traces of it in the past, and water today.

Water leaves traces in a bunch of ways. There are minerals that can only form when there’s water around, and there are geologic formations that water can form. I look for both kinds of evidence for water.

Some of the minerals I’ve found that require water are hematite and carbonates. Hematite can form without water, as it has all over Mars. But what I found that shows there must have been water are called hematite spherules. These are tiny spheres of hematite, embedded in a martian rock. They’re more commonly called “blueberries”. They could have formed as concretions, which only form when there’s liquid water, but the blueberries still don’t definitively prove the existence of water on Mars. There are other ways they could have formed, like as martian tektites.

There are other minerals that can only form with water, such as carbonate minerals like calcite and limestone. The Spirit rover has found evidence of carbonates in the Gusev Crater. You know what this means? Water! Rovers rock!

Channels on Mars were discovered a long time ago, yet exogeologists are still debating how they were made. One theory says that the channels are riverbeds, so they would have been made by water. But another says that the channels were made by lava. I’m still trying to decipher the history of the channels. But I’m hopeful that water had something to do with it.

The Phoenix rover took part in the search for water. It looked for water as part of its mission, and actually found some! I’ll say it again, rovers ROCK!

I’ve found lots of evidence for water on Mars, but I need more proof before I can say for sure that any large amounts of it existed on Mars. I think that “follow the water” is a great goal for the Mars program. I’ll have to keep searching!