John Bridges: Mars Science Laboratory Blog
In addition to the blog, you can find some amazing videos and other content related to the mission, at:
We have paused to do some contact science, using the robotic arm to use APXS on the local rocks. The traverse map shows our path since landing, into and then out of Yellowknife Bay, and then across the cratered plain towards the sand dunes which mark the boundary of Mt. Sharp. On some sols we can go further than others depending on the terrain.
Maps like this also show how sedimentary layers have been eroded back by the effect of the wind over millions of years and impact craters have formed.
Two years after launch from Cape Canaveral we have been slowed up temporarily by a minor short circuit, but are now getting back to analyses and driving.
Every 26 months Mars and Earth are relatively close e.g. 55 million km (!), and so a Hohman transfer orbit can take place. Thus it is no coincidence that MAVEN has just been launched.
A Hohman transfer orbit is the most fuel efficient way of getting between the 2 planets. The Hohman transfer orbit is part of an ellipse with the Sun at one focus within the ellipse, and the 2 planet's orbits just touching the ellipse. This is based on Keplers' Laws, for orbiting bodies in the Solar System. Kepler was a 17th Century astronomer. He worked out that:
•All planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one focus within it (his first law)
•A line joining a planet to the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times (his second law)
•The square of the period of any planet is proportional to the cube of the semimajor axis of its orbit (his 3rd law).
As we work in Gale Crater with Curiosity, other Mars missions are being planned and launched. MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) has taken off to orbit Mars and study in its thin upper atmosphere. When the mudstones at Yellowknife Bay formed the atmosphere was probably considerably thicker than it is today. By calculating the current rate of loss of atmopshere it will be possible to get a better idea of how great the atmospheric pressures were during the 0-19 Gyr Amazonian, 1.9-3.6 Gyr Hesperian and ancient Noachian epochs on Mars.
Seeing the pictures of MAVEN's launch at Cape Canaveral reminded me of Curiosity's launch in August 2011.
Meanwhile the first deadline for suggestions for Mars2020's landing site has passed. Mars 2020 will cache samples for future return to Earth. The rover chassis and Skycrane landing system will be the same as Curiosity's. At Leicester and the British Geological Survey we (Stuart Turner, Stephen Grebby, me) have proposed a site in East Melas Chasma, which is part of the Valles Marineris canyon system. This combines ancient sediments, phyllosilicates and volcanics so could be suitable for sample return. There will be many other suggestions from the Mars community, so it will be exciting to see the science discussions on this topic as they develop.
We have restarted science operations again after the software upload taking longer than expected.
This image taken with one of the Hazard cameras at the front of Curiosity shows the robotic arm taking analyses of the coarse sediment at Cooperstown.