rover tracks
January 10, 2014

Image Shows Orbital View Of Curiosity On The Surface Of Mars

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new image taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the space agency’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars viewed from orbit.

The new image was taken on December 11, 2013 by MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. Not only does the picture feature Curiosity driving inside Gale Crater, but it also shows tracks the rover’s tires have left behind as it makes its way across the Red Planet.

Tracks show where the rover has moved around obstacles on its route toward the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, which is Curiosity’s next major destination, NASA says.

“HiRISE first imaged the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft while it was descending on a parachute to place Curiosity on Mars 17 months ago. Since then, it has provided updated views of the rover's traverse, as seen from orbit,” the space agency said in a statement.

From the time it landed in Gale Crater until the time the image was taken, Curiosity had driven about 2.86 miles. The aerial view shows where the rover has driven generally southwestward from where it landed.

Another image, falsely-colored, shows the trail Curiosity has driven over the last year-and-a-half. In this image, the parallel wheel tracks are about 10 feet apart, giving scientists a good scale to determine how large other features are.

“Curiosity is progressing from a bright dust-covered area to a region with a darker surface, where windblown sand scours the surface relatively free of dust,” NASA said.

At the end of December NASA checked up on the wear and tear of Curiosity’s wheels and updated the rover’s software. NASA said the amount of wear on the wheels seems to have accelerated in the past month or so, which is most likely correlated with driving over rougher terrain.

“The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover's ability to drive. However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives,” stated Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project.

This was the first software upgrade since the rover landed on the Red Planet. The upgrades allowed for expanded capability for using Curiosity’s robotic arm when the vehicle is on slopes, while also improving flexibility for storing information overnight to use in resuming autonomous driving.

Image 2 (below): Two parallel tracks left by the wheels of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover cross rugged ground in this portion of a Dec. 11, 2013, observation by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover itself does not appear in this part of the HiRISE observation. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona [ Full Size Image ]