Crater where Mars rover touched down looks like Earth, feels ‘comfortable’
Scientists: Crater where Mars rover touched down looks like Earth, feels ‘comfortable’
PASADENA, Calif. — The ancient Martian crater where the Curiosity rover landed looks strikingly similar to the Mojave Desert in California with its looming mountains and hanging haze, scientists said Wednesday.
“The first impression that you get is how Earth-like this seems looking at that landscape,” said chief scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology.
It provided the best view so far of its destination since touching down Sunday night after nailing an intricate choreography. During the last few seconds, a rocket-powered spacecraft hovered as cables lowered Curiosity to the ground.
In the latest photos, Curiosity looked out toward the northern horizon. Nearby were scour marks in the surface blasted by thrusters, which kicked up a swirl of dust. There were concerns that Curiosity got dusty, but scientists said that was not the case.
“We do see a thin coating of dust, but nothing too bad,” said Justin Maki, imaging scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $2.5 billion mission.
Scientists were giddy about the scour marks because they exposed bedrock below — information that should help them better understand the landing site.
Since landing, Curiosity has zipped home a stream of low-resolution pictures taken by tiny cameras under the chassis and a camera at the end of its robotic arm, which remained stowed. It also sent back a low-quality video showing the last 2 1/2 minutes of its descent.
The rover successfully raised its mast packed with high-resolution and navigation cameras. With the mast up, it can begin its shutterbug days in force, including taking a 360-degree color view of its surroundings as early as Thursday.
Grotzinger said he was struck by the Martian landscape, which appeared diverse. There seemed to be harder material underneath the gravelly surface, he said.
“It kind of makes you feel at home,” he said. “We’re looking at a place that feels really comfortable.”
Mars, of course, is very different from Earth. It’s a frigid desert constantly bombarded by radiation. There are geological signs that it was a warmer and wetter place once upon a time. One of the mission’s goals is to figure out how Mars transformed.
After sailing 352 million miles and eight months, Curiosity parked its six wheels near the Martian equator, where it will spend the next two years poking into rocks and soil in search of the chemical ingredients of life. It is the most expensive and ambitious mission yet to Mars.
Its ultimate destination is a mountain towering from the center of the crater floor. Preliminary estimates indicate Curiosity landed four miles away from the base of Mount Sharp, thought to contain intriguing signs of past water — a starting point to learning whether microbial life could exist.
Before the 1-ton, nuclear-powered Curiosity can start roving, it has to undergo several weeks of tedious but essential health checks.
Since it was too heavy to land using traditional air bags, it used a heat shield, parachute, rockets and cables. An orbiting spacecraft spotted the discarded spacecraft hardware, including the ballast weights that were shed soon after entry into the atmosphere.
'Space camouflage' coating claim
Engineers claim a black carbon nanotube coating could be used to conceal objects in deep space from detection.
VIDEO: Warning about radioactive bay
James Cook reports from Dalgety Bay in Fife where scientists are warning about increasing levels of radiation.
VIDEO: Oil spill penguins returned to wild
The first group of penguins affected by an oil spill off the coast of New Zealand have been released back into the wild.
Now You Can Doodle in Google Ebooks
Google knows that its Google Doodlers aren't the only ones who love to doodle; we do too. As a result, Google on Thursday introduced a new feature called "Doodle Mode," which lets you draw with a virtual crayon on a select group of Google ebooks.
To get started, you'll need to purchase one of the Doodle Mode compatible ebooks from "The Everything Kids" series, which include puzzles, mazes, hidden pictures, and various activities. After opening up your ebook of choice in the Google eBooks Web Reader and selecting "Doodle Mode" from the upper-right hand menu, you can start drawing.
Google notes that although the Web Reader works in all modern browsers and lets you read Google ebooks without having to download them, Doodle Mode does not yet work with Internet Explorer.
After clicking in the box with your mouse, you can start drawing with your virtual crayon. You can draw whatever picture you want or follow along with activities, completing puzzles and mazes.
Basically, Doodle Mode turns ebooks into the coloring and activity books that we all grew to love during childhood. However, you don't have worry about making a mistake or filling up the pages too quickly; doodles aren't saved, so you can doodle and re-doodle again and again. If you do create a masterpiece that you'd like to keep, though, you can take screenshot or photo to preserve it.
To encourage kids to be creative and imaginative, Google also holds a yearly Doodle 4 Google competition, in which kids submit their very own Google Doodles. This year's winner, California second grader Matteo Lopez, had his space-themed doodle featured on the Google homepage on May 20.
Google has produced some particularly fantastic and innovative doodles lately. In fact, Google announced that the playable Les Paul Google Doodle that graced its homepage yesterday will remain on Google.com in the U.S. for another day, by popular demand. We here at the PCMag offices loved playing with the doodle so much that Chris Phillips, our creative director and an actual musician, decided to create directions so readers could use the doodle to play the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."