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Four updates from Mars

Christina DesMarais | Aug. 13, 2012
In the last week, little has captivated people more than Mars. Since last Sunday, images and news have been pouring out of NASA about Curiosity, the rover that will spend the next two years exploring the red planet, sampling geology and looking for evidence of microbial life.

In the last week, little has captivated people more than Mars. Since last Sunday, images and news have been pouring out of NASA about Curiosity, the rover that will spend the next two years exploring the red planet, sampling geology and looking for evidence of microbial life.

Here are the latest updates involving the remarkable mission.

Geology That Looks Like Death Valley

Curiosity has transmitted back to Earth its first high-resolution color mosaic that shows the environment around its landing site on Mars. It shows a Death Valley-like landscape that includes a northern section on the crater wall where valleys believed to have resulted from water erosion protrude into Gale Crater.

A southern perspective shows the areas the rover will explore, including the rock-strewn, gravelly surface nearby, the dark dune field and the layered buttes and mesas of the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp, reports NASA in an announcement.

This 79-image mosaic was compiled from images taken within about an hour on August 8 with Curiositys 34-millimeter Mastcam, but doesnt include all of the 130 1200-by-1200-pixel full-color photos it capturedsome of which have yet to be returned to earth, resulting in the black patches.

Where the Sky Crane Descent Stage Crashed

Some of the first images Curiosity captured included a strange cloud that set the blogosphere abuzz about what it might be.

"We believe we've caught what is the descent stage impact on the Martian surface," Steve Sell, NASA's deputy operations lead for Curiosity's Mars landing, told reporters Friday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)in Pasadena, California, reports Space.com.

Now, with the high-res images in hand, geologists are looking closely at the crash site that exposes underlying materials as well as an upper layer made up of rock fragments embedded within finer substances.

Curiosity Gets a 'Brain Transplant'

This weekend the Mars rover has been getting what NASA calls a brain transplant, a new version of flight software thats better suited for working on the surface of Mars, such as driving and using Curiositys powerful robotic arm and drill. It will also give the rover better image processing ability so it can avoid obstacles while driving as well as go on longer drives.

The software upgrade began the evening of August 10 and should be complete on August 13.

Its a pretty big deal considering the remote update is happening from 350 million miles away and if something goes wrong it could mean the last contact anyone has with Curiosity.

"It has to work," Steve Scandore, a senior flight software engineer at JPL, told Computerworld. "You don't' want to be known as the guy doing the last activity on the rover before you lose contact."

 

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