Christmas catch-up…

Haven’t updated the blog for a few days because, well, you know, IT’S CHRISTMAS!!!! Have to go AFK (look that acronym up, younglings!) sometimes… :-)

But, now the Big DFay is history, we can catch up on what Curiosity has been doing. Which is, basically, taking lots of pictures of rocks. Not just any rocks tho – very interesting looking rocks, with lots of mineral shinyness inside and under them. But we’ll come back to those. First, a couple of wide angle views showing where Curiosity is parked up at the moment… As ever, click on the image to bring up another page, featuring just that image, and then enlarge THAT by clicking the link just above it…

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Now, just before Christmas Curiosity took the most detailed images yet of one of the bizarre-looking “burst bubbles” we’ve been seeing now we’re inside Glenelg. Take a look at this…

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Love that. Haven’t got a clue what it *is*, but love it… :-)

Now, back to that mineraly goodness… take a look at this image (which is a stitched mosaic of two separate images), and look closely at the rocky ledge/overhang top left… and you’ll see there’s a quite beautiful bright mineral vein running through it…

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Computer… zoom in… and enhance…

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Oh, that’s pretty, isn’t it? C’monmission geologists, you *really* need to be telling us what you’re showing in these beautiful pictures. You’re being way, way too quiet.

…and finally…

Christmas has come and gone, but I’m hoping that on Christmas morning, somewhere in the world a space-mad boy or girl was sitting beside their Christmas tree and unwrapping a toy rocket, or a book, or a dvd, which will inspire them to go on and learn enough about space and astronomy to enable them to go to Mars one day, and visit and explore this amazing place for themselves…

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I hope you are all having a very Merry and safe Christmas!

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A Curious peek under the ledge…

Well, we’re all still here. The world didn’t end. What a shock. It’s almost as if the whole Mayan calendar thing was absolute bo****ks from the start. But I guess that as long as there are idiots in the world eager to embrace such entrail-reading mumbo-jumbo, and as long as they let brain dead conspiracy theorist nutters who actually feel excited by the prospect of the world ending (and, you know, billions of people – including themselves! – dying) onto the internet, these stories will be popular. By the end of the day some other wide-eyed, lunatic, tome-clutching uneducated tit will have picked another date for Armageddon and all the people who believed the Mayan thing will latch onto that instead. I wish they’d all just grow up, don’t you?

Meanwhile…

In the real world, you know, the world of science and technology, which is a stunning place, there IS something to feel excited about: we have two (yes, two!) rovers on Mars, seeing incredible things and sending back new photos daily for us to drool over daily. One, Opportunity, is a solar-powered geologist, and has survived an incredible 9 years (almost) on the Red Planet, driving to, around, into and back out of several craters during a fascinating expedition of scientific discovery which is yet, I think, to enjoy its greatest moment. The other rover, Curiosity, is a nuclear-powered, laser-toting, monster truck, and it is exploring a huge crater called Gale, with a great beast of a mountain in its centre. That’s something people should be shouting about! Especially when the rover drives up a ledge, peers into the shadows beneath it, and sees this

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Look at those beautiful mineral veins running through the rock.

Mayan calendars? Ha. Veins of minerals shining and glittering in an ancient martian rock? Now THAT’S worth looking at!

“What a piece of junk…”

Curiosity has been sending back some absolutely jaw-dropping images of martian rocks since the last time you looked in… or are they rocks? Has Curiosity found a spaceship on Mars? Not just any spaceship, but a famous one..?

Here’s a wide angle view of the area Curiosity is now taking a good close look at… You can see she’s extended her robot arm to begin her in-depth study…

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Here’s what that rocky slab looks like up close… VERY close…

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Now, let’s pull back and see this area properly… enlarge in the usual way (well, the new WordPress way – click image/image appears on its own page/click on link above image to see full size version) but prepare yourself, this is gorgeous…

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See? Told you. But wouldn’t that eb even *more* gorgeous in colour..? Oh yes…

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Does that look familiar? Remind you of anything? How about…

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:-)

The beauty of Barsoom…

Mars offers us beauty on many scales. Stand on Mars with me now, beside Curiosity, in your imagination, and take a look around. Look up and see the huge, wide open butterscotch-hued sky…

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Look down at your feet and see the chips and shards and jagged broken pottery-like fragments of stone covered in the ever-present ochre dust…

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Look up again, and sweep your gaze around the horizon, taking in the view of the floor of Gale Crater, with its rises and hummocks, ledges and outcrops, dust dunes and boulders, with thousands, no, tens of thousands, no, hundreds of thousands, no, millions of rocks and stones scattered all around…

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Now take a look over there, yes, over there, on that flat plate of rock. What is that? Go over and take a closer look… kneel down, slowly in the low gravity, and stare into it through your helmet’s dust-streaked visor… what is that…?

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What happened there? Was that a dome of rock that somehow fractured and collapsed in on itself like one of Oswin’s soufles? Or was it once a bubble of gas rising up from beneath the surface which popped, leaving a broken shell of thin rock behind? Or were there once dragons on Mars, great noble Barsoomian beasts with wings that stretched for hundreds of metres to allow them to fly in the thin martian air, and this is the fossilised remains of one of their eggs? Whatever it is, whatever it once was, it’s beautiful, and how you wish you could take off your helmet and see it properly, without the glass of the visor in the way, withoutt it being dimmed by dust outside and the mist of your breath inside… Then it would look something like this…

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That, my friends, is the beauty of Barsoom…

In praise of rocks…

Curiosity is now a photo-taking demon. Every day literally hundreds of new images come back, showing the spectacular scenery inside Gale Crater, and it’s easy to miss a day and miss out on some truly spectacular scenes. I check in with the images as often as I can, several times a day in fact, but still I know I’m missing stuff! But what I have seen and what I am seeing regularly is just spectacular, and it’s giving me a whole new appreciation for the science of geology. It’s also adding to my already high level of frustration that I don’t know more about geology myself, because I see the rocks, the dust dunes, and the surrounding hills, and I know nothing about them apartfrom the basics. It’s very frustrating, and quite saddening too.

The thing is, the images being returned by Curiosity are *so* busy, contain so *much* beautiful geology, that it’s tempting – and, after you’ve done it once, easy – to just skim over them visually, to kind of “speed read” them if you know what I mean. You pick out a rock or two, maybe drawn to its unusual shape, or colour, or the weird, freaky angle it’s laying at on the surface, but the rest? Just background noise, geological static. Next image please…

Take this next image for instance. It’s actually a mosaic I’ve stitched together out of several individual frames… if you want to see it in all its glory, click on it to enlarge it but remember, for some reason WordPress has changed the way it enlarges images, so you’ll have to click on another link *above* the image when you see it on its own page… I know, bizarre, but what can you do…?

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Now that’s a VERY busy picture, isn’t it? So many rocks! SO many different shapes, and sizes, textures and angles… a couple of those rocks jump out at you because they look so striking, but there’s so much clutter there that it’s a bit like a martian Magic Eye picture (ha! showing my age now! Younger readers – Google search for “Magic Eye”, they were all the rage back in the Ice Age…!). So what I did was pull a few rocks out of that image and isolate them, beneath it, to highlight just what a bewildering and beautiful variety of rocks and stones there are here in Gale…

rocks of gale crater

Ah, now you can see… look at the differences! There are flat, platey, round-edged, heavy-looking slabs of smooth rock that look like fat paving stones… there are angular shards of much darker rock, with rough edges and roughened faces that look like debris from a bombed-out building… there are plates of rocks stacked on top of each other… there are long, sharp blades of much lighter stone.. there are rocks with banding visible on their sides…

WHY?!?!? Why are they different? Why do they look the way they do? What stories do these rocks tell the mission scientists? I wish they’d tell us that. I wish someone would give us a Beginner’s Guide to Martian Geology, taking a picture like that one of mine, above, and just patiently go over it, picking out rocks, explaining why they look the way they do, how they got to look that way, what studying them can tell us about Mars… That’s not me being lazy, I could do that myself I know, with a couple of hours tapping away on Google, but wouldn’t it be great if a mission scientist did that? It would be like being taken to Mars, in person, by a geologist, and having them walk around the floor of Gale Crater with you, stopping to look at rocks and, kneeling down beside them, tell their story. I would love that, and I’m sure many other people would, too.

Take this image for example, another multi-frame mosaic I’ve stitched together…

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…or this one, which I’m particularly pleased with…

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Why are those rocks so dark, and why are they so different to the rocks scattered around them? That fascinates me!

If you – yes, you, reading this right now! – are a geologist who fancies talking us through what we’re seeing, let me know, that would be fantastic!

The gateau layers of Gale…

Been a few days since I updated this blog, I know, but sometimes real life gets in the way! But since the last post Curiosity has been driving, and is now on the edge of an area called “Yellowknife Bay”, which is absolutely stunning. Here’s a magnificent panoramic mosaic put together by the incredibly talented Damien Bouic…

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Now that’s pretty stunning, right? But if you stretch it vertically to bring out subtle details in the topography… well, you get this…

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Wow… anyone else thinking “dried up river”? That’s beautiful, isn’t it?

But as beautiful as that is, when you look at some of these features in colour, well, they just leap out of the screen, grab you by the throat, and demand to be marveled at. Take a look at the following panoramic mosaics I’ve put together – you’ll need to click on them to enlarge them, and even then they might not enlarge properly because something has changed with WordPress’s display and I don’t know what yet or how to fix it. Anyway, take a look as best you can at the following… and seriously,  take a moment or two to just pour and drool over the many different rock types, textures and shapes, and be astounded by the sheer epic, noble beauty of the Barsoomian landscape…

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Let’s look at some of those features in 3D…

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So, as you can see, Curiosity has some *serious* geology ahead of her. Somewhere up ahead is a rock destined to go down in history as the first rock to be drilled by the first nuclear powered Mars rover…

Speaking of rocks, some more images of those strange ‘rock rings’ have come down, and we can now see them more clearly. I’ve put together two cropped images showing two of the features. I can’t help thinking they look like they were once complete stone domes, which have now all but collapsed and eroded away…

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And there are much bigger whole rocks here too…

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Fascinating, absolutely fascinating. SO much work to do here, so many incredible sights to see…

Go get ‘em Curiosity!

Bubbles and bumps…

Curiosity is on the move again, and has reached what looks to be a pretty spectacular and fascinating place. Mars image magician Damien Bouic assembled a bucketload of new MSL images into this beautiful, sweeping panorama, which you’ll need to click on to enlarge and see in all its glory…

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Oh, there’s SO much amazing geology waiting here!! Just look at those layers and outcrops! Go get em Curiosity!

But wait… there is some weird stuff here too… What the heck is this?

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Let’s zoom in on that…

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Hmmm… ok… that looks like it was originally a bubble-like structure that either collapsed or just eroded away, doesn’t it? Or was there a rock there that got covered in dust, and when the rock eroded away over time it left a crust behind which has collapsed over time? No idea! But there are more than one of those things around Curiosity…

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See? There are 4 of the critters visible just on that one small area… Fascinating!

Can’t wait to see what Curiosity sees next…! :-)

Big day tomorrow…

…or rather, “not a very big day tomorrow at all”, because NASA has *finally* put out a statement clarifying the position re the “Earth-shaking” data being collected by Curiosity. The “thunk! thunk! thunk!” sounds you will hear whilst reading this are the final, rusty nails being driven with a mixture of relief and glee by NASA’s press office into the coffin of the story of the ‘historic discovery’ of organics on Mars…

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November 29, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. — The next news conference about the NASA Mars rover Curiosity will be held at 9 a.m. PST(12 p.m. EST) Monday, Dec. 3, in San Francisco at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars’ Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well. This is spectacular for such a complex system, and one that is operated so far away on Mars by people here on planet Earth. The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

Audio and visuals from the briefing also will be streamed online at: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl .

For more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .

Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster 818-354-9452/ 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
veronica.c.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov/ guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

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Well, that’s pretty clear isn’t it? No organics have been discovered by Curiosity yet, so there’s no “life on Mars” angle here, just a fairly standard operational report. Curiosity is driving well, all her instruments have checked out, she’s doing great science, and the best is yet to come! But if you’re wanting the MSL team to stand up at the AGU conference tomorrow and announce to the world, with tears of pride and joy streaming down their faces, that their nuclear-powered Barsoomian behemoth has found evidence of past life on Mars, well, you’re going to be disappointed. Nope.  Nothing to see here, move on, move on…

BUT…

That’s still pretty amazing, isn’t it? Curiosity is working GREAT, sending back hundreds of new images every day for us to drool over, and sending back enough data to keep planetary scientists busy and usefully occupied for many yearsto come. And she’s just got started on her adventure, don’t forget. Where she is now is really just the car park outside the martian mall. There’s a huge geologists’ toy store over there, in all those lovely layers up the slope of Mt Sharp, and soon she’ll turn towards the mountain and start driving towards it.

So, everyone, be not downhearted! This beast of a story ran away with itself a bit, and then took on a life of its own. It’s now safely back in its cage tho, and sleeping, so we can all catch our breaths and just enjoy the reality of the situation – which is that Curiosity is seeing spectacular views like these… click to enlarge, as usual…

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(LOVE that one, just look at all the different shapes, textures and colours of the rocks!!!)

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REALLY pleased with that one. I’m NOT claiming it’s accurate or realistic, cos frankly I’ve played about with it a lot, unil I made a view which just struck me as beautiful. So, take that image as you will – it’s my portrait of a tiny, tiny part of a crater on a world millions of miles away…