Photography is one of Curiosity’s main jobs and, a few days ago, the robot took the first night shots of the martian soil.
The Mars Curiosity rover was launched from Earth on November 26th, 2011, while the Mars touchdown was completed last year, on August 6th. NASA’s car-sized robot is on the Red Planet to find out everything about the planet’s geology and climate.
Being a part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, there is a lot of pressure on the imaginary shoulders of the Curiosity rover. The robo-shuttle is trying to map the martian terrain as well as to find evidence of microbial life on the planet.
In order to achieve that, the rover is exploring the Gale Crater and is taking lots of photos of the planet. January 22nd, 2013 marked the occasion to take the first nighttime images of the planet, as the Rover’s cameras were switched from daytime to night mode.
Curiosity’s first Mars nighttime photos
The images were photographed by the so-called Mars Hand Lens Imager camera. The calibration occurred prior to these photos and it involved a 1909 Lincoln penny. The same target was used by the rover to calibrate its camera for taking daytime photos last August. Geologists use pennies to measure the relative size of rocks, hence NASA scientists decided to put the pennies to even further use.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover used two lighting setups to take the photos, one in white and the other in ultraviolet. The Martian rock, which was chosen to be photographed, was illuminated using white, respectively ultraviolet LEDs. Located in the Gale Crater in an area called Yellowknife Bay, the rock is called Sayunei.
Although it appears to be bigger, the photo actually covers only a surface of 1.3-inch by 1-inch, approximately 3.4 x 2.5 centimeters. The rover’s white and ultraviolet LEDs provided textural detail and cast shadows on the rock, following an exposure of up to 30 seconds.
The analysis of the images is currently underway and NASA will release a complete statement in the near future, regarding the presence of fluorescent minerals. While the results will be exciting no matter what, we are curious to find out what our favorite robot can do with its photographic capabilities during the night.
Let’s hope NASA will capture and reveal more nighttime photos from Mars. We will let you know as soon as this happens, meaning that should keep an eye on our website for more photos from Mars!