NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity Seen from Space

NASA’s Curiosity rover was imaged on Mars on May 31, 2019, by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera aboard the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity can be seen in this image taken from space on May 31, 2019, by the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity can be seen in this image taken from space on May 31, 2019, by the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

“This may be the best or most interesting image of Curiosity acquired by HiRISE,” said University of Arizona’s Professor Alfred McEwen.

At the time the HiRISE image was acquired, Curiosity was examining a location called ‘Woodland Bay’ within a clay-bearing area of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile (5 km) tall mountain inside of Gale Crater.

The Vera Rubin ridge is northwest of the rover, while a dark patch of rippled sand lies to the northeast.

In the image, the rover appears as a bluish speck.

“Look carefully at the inset image, and you can make out what it is likely Curiosity’s ‘head,’ technically known as the remote sensing mast,” said Professor McEwen, leader of the HiRISE team.

Curiosity appears as a bluish speck in the center of the inset image. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Curiosity appears as a bluish speck in the center of the inset image. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

What HiRISE detects are mainly specular (mirror-like) reflections off of various shiny surfaces, plus shadows of the rover cast onto the Martian surface.

“A specular reflection occurs when most of the light hitting a surface is reflected in a single direction, and can be seen by an observer looking from exactly that direction,” the researcher explained.

“So for HiRISE to see specular reflections on the rover, the Sun and MRO need to be in just the right locations, and several such reflections are luckily available.”

“If there is a hemispherical shiny surface like the shield over the seismometer of NASA’s InSight lander, then MRO can always see a specular reflection as long as the surface remains shiny.”

The new HiRISE image shows three or four distinct bright spots that are likely specular reflections, with one of them to the northwest of the others.

“A first thought is that the separate bright spot is the rover’s arm, but it could also be the remote sensing mast head, which points a bit forward on the rover,” Professor McEwen said.

“At the time this image was acquired, the rover was facing minus 65 degrees from north, which would put the mast head in about the right location to produce this bright spot.”

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