Saturday, April 19, 2014

Opportunity Self-Portrait, March 2014

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows effects of wind events that had cleaned much of the accumulated dust off the rover's solar panels. It combines multiple frames taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) through three different color filters from March 22 to March 24, 2014, the 3,611th through 3,613th Martian days, or sols, of Opportunity's work on Mars.

For a comparison to what the rover looked like before a series of cleaning events in March, see a similar self-portrait taken January 3 through January 6, 2014, at PIA17759.

With the cleaner arrays and lengthening winter days, Opportunity's solar arrays were generating more than 620 watt-hours per day in mid-April 2014, compared to less than 375 watt-hours per day in January 2014.

This image is presented as a vertical projection in approximately true color. The mast on which the Pancam is mounted does not appear in the image, though its shadow does.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University

Note: For more information, see PIA18080: Self-Portrait by Freshly Cleaned Opportunity Mars Rover, False Color and NASA Rover Opportunity's Selfie Shows Clean Machine.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mount Remarkable At The Kimberley

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used its Navigation Camera (Navcam) to record this scene of a butte called "Mount Remarkable" and surrounding outcrops at a waypoint called "the Kimberley" inside Gale Crater. The butte stands about 16 feet (5 meters) high. Its informal name comes from a mountain and national park in Australia. The rover team plans to drive Curiosity to the flatter outcrop at the base of the Martian Mount Remarkable for a close-up inspection that might include drilling into the rock.

This mosaic view combines multiple images taken during the 597th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (April 11, 2014). That same day, the rover had driven 90.2 feet (27.5 meters) and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed Curiosity at the location from which the rover captured this panorama. The resulting image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera is online at PIA18081. A map showing Curiosity's route from the August 2012 landing site to the Kimberley is online at

Curiosity's science team chose the Kimberley in 2013 as a waypoint for science investigations along the route to the mission's long-term destinations on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale Crater. This waypoint offers set of outcrops of different types of rock layers exposed close together, so that their relationship to each other can be studied. The team refers to the rock layer surrounding the base of Mount Remarkable as the "middle unit" because it is intermediate in location between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks that show a pattern of striations.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Note: For more information, see PIA18084: Stereo View of 'Mount Remarkable' and Surrounding Outcrops at Mars Rover's Waypoint.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Labeatis Fossae

This complex graben is part of Labeatis Fossae.

Orbit Number: 54045 Latitude: 30.2428 Longitude: 280.922 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-18 22:36

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Curisosity at The Kimberley

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and tracks from its driving are visible in this view from orbit, acquired on April 11, 2014, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The rover is near the largest butte in the lower left quadrant of the image, at about a two o'clock position relative to the butte. It appears bright blue in the exaggerated color of this image.

The multi-layered location filling much of the left half of this image is called "the Kimberley." Curiosity's science team chose it, based on other HiRISE images, as a potential gold mine for the rover mission. Black gold, that is, as organic material that, if found at the Kimberley could be a biomarker (sign of past life) -- the holy grail of Mars exploration.

In December 2013, at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger talked about what the mission had learned that year in a location called "Yellowknife Bay," and why the team was planning to stop Curiosity and drill again at the Kimberley. Mudstones that Curiosity drilled and analyzed at Yellowknife Bay had been exposed at the Martian surface for less than 100 million years, which is relatively recent, geologically speaking. Scientists deduced that this was due to erosion of overlying layers by the wind, and that even younger exposure ages should be possible closer to an eroding scarp. This matters because Mars doesn't have a magnetosphere and thick atmosphere like Earth's, which protect us from energetic particles from space that break down organic material. Thus, rocks that have been near the surface of Mars longer (on geological time scales) are less likely to contain complex organic material. Complex organic material might be the remains of past life, or at least inform us about past habitability. Habitability is the potential to support life, whether or not life ever actually existed there.

By late 2013, Curiosity had left Yellowknife Bay and wasn't going to turn around, but similar scarps lay ahead, on the way to the mission's long-term destinations on lower slopes of Mount Sharp (also known as Aeolis Mons). The team had already chosen Curiosity's next major target: the Kimberley. This location, where Curiosity arrived in early April 2014, has what appear to be geologically young scarps. This HiRISE image shows the rover close to one of the scarps.

Curiosity entered the area included in this image on March 12, along the tracks visible near the upper left corner. The distance between parallel wheel tracks is about 9 feet (2.7 meters). The area included in the image is about 1,200 feet (about 365 meters) wide. This view is an enhanced-color product from HiRISE observation ESP_036128_1755, available at the HiRISE website at The exaggerated color, to make differences in Mars surface materials more apparent, makes Curiosity appear bluer than the rover really looks. A stereo view combining information from this observation with topography derived from earlier HiRISE observations, for a three-dimensional appearance, is at PIA18082.

A rover's-eye view taken by Curiosity from the location where the rover is seen in this image is online at PIA18083.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Note: For more information, see NASA Mars Orbiter Spies Rover Near Martian Butte and Curiosity Ready to Drill for Gold at the Kimberley.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Streamlined Island in Lobo Vallis

Today's VIS image shows a streamlined island in a broad channel in Chryse Planitia. The channel is part of the outflow region of Lobo Vallis, a northern branch of Kasei Valles.

Orbit Number: 54044 Latitude: 31.689 Longitude: 309.953 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-18 20:37

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buvinda Vallis

Today's VIS image shows part of Buvinda Vallis, located just outside the northeastern flank of Hecates Tholus.

Orbit Number: 54037 Latitude: 33.2014 Longitude: 151.998 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-18 06:47

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Two-Color Dunes in Meridiani Terra

Why are these dunes different colors? Sand on Mars is typically dark in tone, as it commonly derived from volcanic rocks like lava flows. In HiRISE enhanced color, which operates in long infrared wavelengths (beyond what the human eye can detect), surfaces like these dune crests are dark blue to purple. Sand comes in sizes that are ideal for surface transport by the wind, where sand “hops” along forming bedforms, like these dunes after large amounts of time.

The lighter toned “tan” or “reddish” surfaces are indeed composed of a different material, but not as sand sized particle that makes up the bulk of these dunes. Rather, the light-toned smooth surfaces that dominate the lower, flatter areas of the dunes are a thin coating of global dust. Dust on Mars is composed of a variety of materials, including oxidized iron, like rust.

For a given wind gust, speeds are not constant at different heights. Rather, wind speeds are greater with height above the ground and wind energy drops to nearly zero at the surface. Dust persists on flatter dune areas, because wind energy there has not been sufficient to remove it, whereas “dust free” higher-lying dune crests are subject to more intense winds, which ultimately conspire to make the appearance of two-color dunes.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Monday, April 14, 2014

Terraced Crater Northwest of Alba Mons

This image shows the western rim of a well-preserved 8.5-kilometer (about 5 miles) diameter impact crater.

The wall features a slumped terrace that extends all the way around the crater diameter (the adjacent image show the rest of the terrace). This slumped terrace, a result of the crater formation process, gives the crater a concentric ringed appearance.

Terraces are an expected feature in Martian craters of this size or larger, as the material strength of the surface is overcome by the force of all-of-the-sudden-missing mass. Blocks of rock slump down the steep crater walls and slide inward (by contrast, terraces in smaller craters are often the product of an impact of an object into a surface with layers of differing material strength).

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Note: This impact crater is located to the northwest of Alba Mons and its lava flows.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Butte Remaining at Possible Fissure Vent South of Ascraeus Mons

What is this strange-looking feature? HiRISE scientists first noticed it in images from the Context Camera and acquired this picture to investigate more closely.

The feature indeed does look like a heart. It is located south of Ascraeus Mons, which is a large volcano within the Tharsis volcanic plateau, so it is extremely likely that this feature was formed by a volcanic process. The feature rises above the surrounding terrain and we can see concentric ridges on its top. Perhaps this feature is an ancient vent structure (an opening in the ground from which volcanic lava emerges) that has been more resistant to erosion than the surrounding area, so that it resembles “inverted” terrains.

Topographic inversion or inverted terrain often occurs when low areas of a landscape become filled with lava or sediments that harden into materials which are more resistant to erosion than the materials that surround them. Differential erosion then removes the less resistant surrounding material, leaving behind the younger resistant material which may then appear as a ridge where previously there was a valley, or in our case, a butte, where there was once a pit or depression.

Additional imaging of the feature to create a stereo and a digital terrain model may help in further assessing the structure by making accurate measurement of its height and the steepness of its slopes.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Channel in Nili Fossae

This complex channel is located in the Nili Fossae region.

Orbit Number: 54027 Latitude: 22.7189 Longitude: 78.748 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-17 11:05

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Osuga Valles

The central portion of Osuga Valles, which has a total length of 164 km. In some places, it is 20 km wide and plunges to a depth of 900 m. It is located approximately 170 km south of Eos Chaos, which is located at the periphery in the far eastern portion of the vast Valles Marineris canyon system.

Catastrophic flooding is thought to have created the heavily eroded Osuga Valles, which displays streamlined islands and a grooved floor carved by fast-flowing water. The water flowed in a northeasterly direction (towards the bottom right in this image) and eventually drained into another region of chaotic terrain, just seen at the bottom of the image.

Several large impact craters are also seen in this scene, including the ghostly outline of an ancient, partially buried crater in the bottom center of the image.

The image was created using data acquired with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express on 7 December 2013 during orbit 12,624. The image resolution is about 17 m per pixel and the image center is at about 15ºS / 322ºE.

Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Note: For more information, see Osuga Valles in Context, Osuga Valles in 3D, Perspective View of Osuga Valles, and Osuga Valles Topography.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Olympia Undae

The sand dunes in this VIS image are part of Olympia Undae, a huge sand sea located near the north polar cap.

Orbit Number: 54011 Latitude: 78.4383 Longitude: 198.938 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-16 03:10

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University

Opportunity at Murray Ridge

This HiRISE image of the Opportunity rover was acquired as a coordinated “ride-along” observation with the CRISM instrument, also onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The CRISM instrument is a spectrometer that views the surface in many wavelengths beyond what the human eye can detect, allowing for mineral identification of the Martian surface.

HiRISE images can be used to construct digital terrain models (or DTM), like the one of Endeavour Crater’s western rim, which provides high-resolution topography for landing site support. This southward prospective view was built using that DTM.

The use of CRISM mineralogy, along with topography and fine-scale images from HiRISE will aid in Opportunity's investigation into the geologic history of the Murray Ridge of Endeavour Crater.

Photo credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wind Streak East of Olympus Mons

The windstreak in this VIS image is located on Tharsis volcanic lava flows east of Olympus Mons.

Orbit Number: 54009 Latitude: 20.7725 Longitude: 237.425 Instrument: VIS Captured: 2014-02-15 23:33

Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University