NASA's Curiosity Rover Snaps Nocturnal Picture On Mars For First Time
January 24, 2013

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Snaps Nocturnal Picture On Mars For First Time

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA's newest Martian rover has snapped a nocturnal image of a rock on the Red Planet for the first time.

Mars Science Lab's Curiosity used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera attached to its arm to take photos at night, illuminated by white lights and ultraviolet lights on the instrument.

Scientists used MAHLI to take a close-up nighttime look at a rock target known as "Sayunei," in an area called "Yellowknife Bay" where Curiosity's front-wheel scuffed the rock to provide fresh, dust-free materials. NASA said in an image caption that the photo of Sayunei covers an area about 1.3 inches by 1 inch.

The site where the nocturnal images were taken is near where the rover team plans to being using Curiosity's drill for the first time in the coming weeks. Curiosity's MAHLI camera took the images on January 22, and sent them to Earth on January 23.

MAHLI is an adjustable-focus color camera that includes its own LED illumination sources. These light sources allowed surface features to cast shadows, and provide textural detail, NASA said. The LEDs emit light in a waveband centered at a wavelength of 365 nanometers.

"The purpose of acquiring observations under ultraviolet illumination was to look for fluorescent minerals," MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, said in a statement. "These data just arrived this morning. The science team is still assessing the observations. If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that'd be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence."

The ultraviolet lighting exposure was taken for a duration of 30 seconds. NASA posted the image before analysis was completed about whether fluorescent minerals were present. In the image, some glowing white material can be seen at the bottom left side of the image, but NASA has not acknowledged this feature in the image as of yet.

NASA also released a night image of the MAHLI calibration target, in which two bluish dots of the reflections of LEDs can be seen. In this image, the red feature seen is the calibration target's fluorescent swatch. The space agency said that this target is made of room-temperature vulcanized silicone, impregnated with a pigment.