Posts Tagged ‘rover’

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!

Speech on Why Exogeology ROCKS!

Posted by Zoe on 28th July 2012 in Main Page

You’ve heard that exogeology rocks, but just what is exogeology? Why does it rock?

I recently gave a speech on just that: Why Exogeology ROCKS!

Curiosity Launches Today

Posted by Petra on 26th November 2011 in Main Page, Petra's Blog

Hello, Petra Stone here with news about the Mars Science Laboratory, better known as Curiosity or the MSL. Today, this new rover finally launches on its journey to Mars.

Image from NASA

It’s been over eight years now since the last Mars rover launch, Opportunity’s in 2003. Now, Curiosity will set off on a mission to determine if life could have ever arisen on Mars, characterize the climate of Mars, characterize the geology of Mars, and prepare for human exploration. Those are the four main goals, but this newest and largest rover has eight more specific scientific objectives. There’s a lot in store for the MSL!

JPL cleanroom where Curiosity was built. Image credit Zoe Bentley.

Curiosity’s equipment ROCKS! It’s taking a drill, several cameras for steering and gathering data, a robotic arm, and even a tool called SAM with a laser in it which vaporizes rocks. No, I’m not kidding. The MSL is also powered by plutonium. This means dust buildups won’t keep Curiosity from getting the energy to explore. Even the way it lands is pretty cool. I can’t wait until Curiosity reaches Gale Crater in August next year.

Curiosity is scheduled to launch today at 10:02 EST from Cape Canaveral on board an Atlas V rocket. I can’t wait for this ROCKIN’ rover to get on its way!

Check out these webpages to learn more about Curiosity:
The Mars Science Laboratory’s website
NASA’s MSL Mission Page
Watch Curiosity Launch Live!

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!

A Day in the Life of an Exogeologist

Posted by Petra on 3rd April 2010 in Petra's Blog

Want to know just what an exogeologist does all day? Well, maybe I can show you just how cool this job is!

When I start working for the day, the first thing I do is see if I’ve received any new data. This could be from other exogeologists or from different spacecraft. I sometimes even get rock samples to analyze. If I do, I’ll take them to the lab. There I’ll test the sample to find out its composition.

There are lots of tests I can do. I can test minerals for streak, hardness, cleavage or fracture, and of course note the color and shape of the crystals. For example, let’s say I was given a mineral sample to identify. It has cube-shaped crystals, and is gold in color.  I rub it on a streak plate, and the streak is greenish black. I’ll scratch it with various tools and deduce that its Mohs hardness is 6. When I break it with a hammer, the place where it breaks is conchoidal (a distinctive curved shape). All these things put together tell me that my mineral is pyrite. If I were given a rock sample, there are a lot of various tests I could do to classify a rock, like cutting a thin slice and looking at it under a microscope.

  • Here’s a quick tip about classifying rocks: If it has bubbles, it’s got to be igneous. Those bubbles are called vesicles, and they’re made when gas bubbles are trapped inside a rock as it cools.

Some days I’ll go to an observatory to do research on a planet. I need to reserve the telescope ahead of time usually. When I used a telescope at the Kitt Peak observatory, I had to reserve the telescope years in advance! But it was worth it. I got some great photographs of Jupiter and a comet during my time at the telescope. I’ve used lots of different observatories, and it’s always been productive. Well, except for that one time when it rained… I had to cancel. I must have been really unlucky that time. But that’s the trouble with astronomy; sometimes you just have to wait for another clear night. At least every other time went well.

Other days I’ll get information from a spacecraft or lander! That’s my favorite part! Once, I got to help with the LCROSS mission and interpret data from the spectrometer. The goal was to find water, and we did! That ROCKS! Since Mars is my specialty, I’ve been receiving data from the Mars Odyssey orbiter, which maps the amount of chemical elements and their distribution. I loved working on that. Maybe I’ll get to interpret data from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Part of the MSL’s mission will be to study the geology of Mars.

Exogeology ROCKS!