The Curiosity Mars rover just celebrated its fifth year anniversary (two years in Martian years). The Curiosity rover is a car-sized machine exploring the Gale Crater as a part of its mission to see if Mars can or has ever supported life. The most interesting part of the rover exploration are the pictures it has been sending back from Mars to NASA. This includes the recent selfies the rover took of itself to show how things are going on the red planet.
Curiosity Mars rover was launched at Cape Canaveral, Air Force base in Florida on November 26, 2011, aboard NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The spacecraft arrived at the Gale Crater nine months later on August 6, 2012. The MSL spacecraft traveled approximately 350 million miles from Earth to reach the intended location on Mars. In 2012, the two year journey of the Curiosity Mars rover was extended indefinitely, the machine will be replaced by another rover in the year 2020. The main goal of the MSL mission is to determine whether Mars’ atmosphere can sustain life, in addition to examining the many ice caps present on the surface. The main focus is to study water, geology, and the climate.
According to Wikipedia, here are the objectives of the Curiosity Mars Rover in its entirety
- “Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds”
- “Investigate the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur)”
- “Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes (biosignatures and biomolecules)”
Geological and geochemical
- “Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.”
- “Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils”
- “Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes”
- “Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide”
- “Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic and cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons. As part of its exploration, it also measured the radiation exposure in the interior of the spacecraft as it traveled to Mars, and it is continuing radiation measurements as it explores the surface of Mars. This data would be important for a future manned mission”
Which brings things back to the photos. NASA recently released photos of the Curiosity Mars rover’s 57 photos that were sent back to Earth and after combining the photos it was determined the rover took quite a number of selfies. This is the third group of selfies the Curiosity Mars rover has taken since landing on Mars five years ago. The rover uses the MHL (Mars Hand Lens) to take it’s photos which were near the Namib dune last week. Every year the rover sings happy birthday to itself and snaps a few photos. In June 2014, Curiosity Mars rover took some self-portraits to celebrate being on Mars for exactly one full Martian year, which is equal to nearly 700 days on Earth.
With the Curiosity Mars rover 57 photos from the red planet, Earthlings can see a 360° panoramic view of the surrounding environment (which can be viewed on the NASA Facebook page). Viewers will see Mars sand grains, the car is sized rover machine, Martian rocks and pictures of the sky. For the last few months, the Curiosity Mars rover has been collecting sand to examine the direction of the wind on the dunes in the Bagnold dune field.
The accomplishments of the Curiosity Mars rover are truly astonishing. Having an up close and personal view of another planet’s environment gives us a chance to appreciate everything that is outside of our atmosphere. Astronomy buffs are awaiting anxiously to find if life ever existed on Mars and if it can maintain human life.
[Image via NASA Handout/Getty Images]