Curiosity Takes Sharpest Images Yet Of Solar Eclipse On Mars
August 29, 2013

Curiosity Takes Sharpest Images Yet Of Solar Eclipse On Mars

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

NASA said its Curiosity rover has taken the sharpest image of a solar eclipse ever taken on Mars.

The Martian rover was able to snap an image of Phobos, the largest of Mars' moons, passing in front of the sun. Curiosity snapped a set of three frames, taken three seconds apart using its Mast Camera (Mastcam).

The rover took a break from driving on August 17, 2013 in order to record the event. The images are the first full-resolution frames of a series that could eventually be combined to create a movie of the eclipse.

"This event occurred near noon at Curiosity's location, which put Phobos at its closest point to the rover, appearing larger against the sun than it would at other times of day," Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a co-investigator for use of Curiosity's MastCam, said in a statement. "This is the closest to a total eclipse of the sun that you can have from Mars."

Curiosity, as well as the still-active Mars rover Opportunity, is helping scientists understand even more about the orbits of the Martian moons. The position of Phobos during the latest eclipse was a mile or two closer to the center of the sun's position than research anticipated. It is data like this that will enable scientists to hone in on the precise orbits of the Martian moons.

"This one is by far the most detailed image of any Martian lunar transit ever taken, and it is especially useful because it is annular. It was even closer to the sun's center than predicted, so we learned something," Lemmon said.

Last December, researchers from the Complutense University of Madrid said they developed a method to allow Curiosity to navigate around the Red Planet using Martian eclipses. The scientists said they were able to use previous Curiosity observations to help pinpoint the rover's position on Mars with an error of just a few feet to a few miles. The latest observations could potentially help scientists sharpen up this method even more in the future.

NASA said earlier this week that it has allowed Curiosity to have a little more freedom, equipping the rover with autonomous navigation for the first time. This software enhancement will allow for the rover to traverse across the Martian terrain on its own, helping it determine the safest path to take as it makes its way closer to Mount Sharp.