A stunning image from Mars

August 8, 2012 • 8:47 am

Do not worry—my fixation with the Rover landing has nearly passed.  But I couldn’t help posting this picture, found by alert reader Rixaeton, that shows all five components of the entry vehicle in one frame.  Do go to the original NASA site to see it in full size (or click on the image below):

The details (resolution is 39 cm/pixel):

The four main pieces of hardware that arrived on Mars with NASA’s Curiosity rover were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image about 24 hours after landing. The large, reduced-scale image points out the strewn hardware: the heat shield was the first piece to hit the ground, followed by the back shell attached to the parachute, then the rover itself touched down, and finally, after cables were cut, the sky crane flew away to the northwest and crashed. Relatively dark areas in all four spots are from disturbances of the bright dust on Mars, revealing the darker material below the surface dust.

Around the rover, this disturbance was from the sky crane thrusters, and forms a bilaterally symmetrical pattern. The darkened radial jets from the sky crane are downrange from the point of oblique impact, much like the oblique impacts of asteroids. In fact, they make an arrow pointing to Curiosity.

The Curiosity rover is approximately 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) away from the heat shield; about 2,020 feet (615 meters) away from the parachute and back shell; and approximately 2,100 feet (650 meters) away from the discoloration consistent with the impact of the sky crane.

You can find more images related to the descent here.

Oh, and reader “gravelinspetor” found this photo:

65 thoughts on “A stunning image from Mars

  1. I understand that NASA expects a much better photo of this site later when the Mars Orbiter is positioned better. This was taken at a more oblique angle than a future orbit will have.

    1. *Disclaimer: I’m on the HiRISE operations team

      We will be acquiring more images over the coming weeks, the next one will be in about 4 days. It will have somewhat better resolution, since it will be on a much smaller roll, and all the hardware should be in the camera’s color swath, which will be nice.

      Probably the most interesting little tidbit is that now that the mast has deployed, we probably won’t be able to resolve the mast itself, but we ought to be able to see it’s shadow cast on the ground, depending on the sun angle. We are often able to see the shadow of the mast from the MER rovers, and given that MSL’s mast is about twice as high, the mast shadow should be pretty obvious.

      1. There are other cameras on the MRO. Don’t know if rheyd knew about this or was embargoed when the post was made. The landing spots of the ballast weights, jettisoned just before the parachute deployment have been found by comparing before and after landing images from the MRO context camera. This is a lower resolution but wider field of view camera. You can see the two images in blink comparison mode here:


        The caption says that they are about twelve kilometers from curiosity.


  2. Re: the science-religion postcard, that religious folk debate dietary restrictions is practically sane compared to why religious folk debate them.

    Remember, this is an issue because the state of our soul depends (in part) on correct interpretation of an omnibenevolent deity’s unclear dietary restrictions.

    Just let all that sink in. Its like layer upon layer of wonderland logic.

  3. Whew! At least they know where the Sky Crane landed.

    Sending it back to reclaim the deposit at the Interplanetary Tool Rental Shop is no doubt a problem to be addressed further down the road.

      1. It would appear that after spreading our garbage all over the moon, we are doing the same to Mars. Where is Wal-e when you need him?

    1. More like “Your ex-lover who is about to file for a restraining order for your creepy, clingy, stalkerish behaviour”

  4. I saw these images this morning, too. It’s amazing, the resolution of HiRISE.

    There’s similar pictures taken by LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) of the Apollo landing sites that are equally amazing. Phil Plait often mentions them on his Bad Astronomy website.

  5. One of these days someone’s going to have to go out there and pick up all these leftover bits and pieces. It’s getting to be a mess out there.

    In 2001, Arthur C. Clarke imagines a future where the early lunar probes have been broken up into little pieces that are embedded in clear plastic and put on sale for exorbitant prices in the moonbase gift shop.

    1. If you believe all those pieces comes from the original craft, I have a bridge to sell back on Earth.

    2. Next: what the hell to do with all those footprints…

      (I read something once regarding how we should declare parts of the moon strictly off-limits for the planetary geologists, who need pristine moon surface for their simulations & age estimates of various bombardment events)

      For some reason I’m not terribly optimistic that we will have to worry about such problems in the near future… or ever, even.

    3. I thought that was in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But of course, recycling is always possible in literature.

  6. Religion puts men in ignorance, science puts rovers on Mars.

    I heard the good news that they are considering the trisected point between the light alluvial fan, the younger terrain Curiosity landed on, and the cratered terrain the heat shield landed on, their first science target. They need to sort out “ground truth” of the basal layers, and the fan is a boon for geologists. [HT Emily Lackdawalla on The Planetary Science Blog.]

    I’m a big fan of the fan. What if there is recent brine activity? It sure looks seasonal in other places, and the associated color shifts may be partly biotic for all we know.

    1. I had been contemplating that very point as I looked at the debris field : where to start exploration?
      The next rover they put up, should include a loudspeaker. Just so an evil laugh can boom across the landscape, followed by “Mine! All mine!”

  7. That is interesting. I found another postcard that reads:

    Dear Christianity,

    While you were getting all soppy about loving thy neighbour, I was preparing the ground for manned spaceflight by experimenting on prisoners at Dachau.



    1. Dear Christianity,

      Thanks for writing. Science didn’t experiment on prisoners at Dachau. Nazis did. You don’t seem to be doing much loving of your neighbors, but you do have a very long record of persecuting them, going to war against them, and condemning them to eternal suffering.



    2. Dear Science,

      Take a vacation, since your job of working out how to hang gods from sticks is complete.

      Your in christ,


      1. Dear Christianity,
        In your continued ignorance, you suggest science existed at the time Jesus was supposedly crucified, hence your reference to hanging gods on sticks. This also assumes Jesus existed and was a god.
        Truly, you have provided evidence that your ability to think remains on vacation. Choosing ignorance, you qualify and set the example for “st00pid” — that is, double-O stupid, licensed to die.


    3. Considering how many Nazis were devout Xtians, do you really think Xtianity was unaware of the horrors of Dachau, such that Science would need to write Xtianity a note to let Xtianity know about said horrors? “Loving thy neighbor” indeed…

  8. I’d like to know how the cables were disconnected once Curiosity hit the ground: quite a crucial moment, what mechanism enured they didn’t snag and whisk the machine back into the (for better words) air?

    1. When touchdown is detected pyrotechnic cutters sever the lines ~ these are very common devices in the aerospace industry.

      “…pyrotechnic cutters have been manufactured for various commercial and military applications, including Drone Launch and Recovery, Release Mechanisms, and Reefing Line Cutters”

      I don’t know how touchdown is detected, but I can think of half a dozen ways it could be automated without much risk of a false positive

  9. Dear Science:

    While you were killing over 200,000 civilians, we were continuing our quest for teaching peace on earth and good will toward men.
    Your conscience,

    Aug. 9, 1945

    1. This is pretty Poe. For a moment you had me going there. I really thought you honestly believed the brain-numbingly tendentious and insipid premises behind this comment. But then I thought “nobody could be that deluded”. I’m not a real fan of trolls, but credit where it is due. You do a great job of pretending to be ignorant and disingenuous.

      1. Humor me and for a moment consider that I might have been serious, even at the risk of being considered tendentious, insipid, deluded, ignorant and disingenuous. Also recognize [as you must if you are to make serious sense of this convoluted world] that there is a profound difference between the tenants of a belief system and how that system may be practiced by some of its claimed adherents. It is unmistakable that Christianity’s hallmark characteristic, for instance, is summed up by the single word “love.” LOVE your neighbor as yourself. LOVE your enemy. LOVE those who despitefully use you. Through LOVE, return good for evil, turn your other cheek. The list goes on. So, yes, “peace on earth good will toward men” is a primary aim and goal of that particular religion. How it is practiced by those who claim the name but use it for their own purposes, is not the point, and in the multitudinous examples that you can throw against me of what has been wrought in its name that have been contrary to its tenants, you will find me more incensed than you, and I would bet that I could come up with more examples than you. So we might have more to agree about than argue about [poor, poor deluded me]. If you believe that loving your neighbor is an evil thing [or if you believe that the word “evil” has no meaning], then we have something serious to discuss. If, on the other hand, you deny the hallmark characteristic I identified, I would send you to school, rather than try to educate you in such a limited format as this.

        1. First of all, you’ve moved the goalposts from “Religion” to “Christianity”. Not a good start.

          Second of all, no, you do not have a unilateral ability to set out what the defining characteristic of “Christianity” is. I’m fairly certain a great number of Calvinists would have a field day eviscerating your notion of Christianity. In particular, your naive point that religion writ large (the point remains valid even when you focus on Christianity) is merely trying to “teach peace on earth and good will toward men” is manifestly untrue. Religion does far more than that, and much of it is harmful.

          Finally, and most importantly, science is not an ideology, religion is. Science is a method, a set of intellectual tools, that is often useful in increasing our understanding of the universe. So, tarring a personified “science” of doing anything is just ridiculous. (As a result, I don’t care much for the card in the original post.) Religion, on the other hand, is a belief system with a set of tenets and goals. In other words, following a particular religion has implications for “oughts”. Thus, while a tad silly, personifying “religion” is far more accurate than personifying science.

          1. Emerson: You make some excellent points with which I agree. The original card was a bit silly and I responded in kind. It was positioning Science against religion [Christianity as it turns out, since that was the source of the “chicken” debate – goalposts already moved] extolling the profound accomplishment of the Mars thing [I was there each second of the seven minutes agonizing with the rest of them] and contrasting that with the Christianity’s silly debate over chicken. So I was reponding by juxtapositioning one of the destructive uses of science with the noble goal of achieving peace through Christian moral teaching. The hallmark that I listed would not be questioned by Calvin or any Christian theologan [the Sermon on the Mount is universally recognized as the pinicle of all Christian teaching, transending all else].
            The inappropriate “personification” is well taken and agreed to, although I could wax volumes about the difference between science [methodology] and scientism [ideology] that are routinely mixed together widely and usually without distinction particularly on this blog.

        2. Phoenix,

          Also recognize [as you must if you are to make serious sense of this convoluted world] that there is a profound difference between the tenants of a belief system and how that system may be practiced by some of its claimed adherents.

          There is no independent arbiter of “true” Christianity. Christianity is a matter of what people who call themselves Christians preach and practise. Their record is not a good one.

          It is unmistakable that Christianity’s hallmark characteristic, for instance, is summed up by the single word “love.” LOVE your neighbor as yourself. LOVE your enemy. LOVE those who despitefully use you. Through LOVE, return good for evil, turn your other cheek. The list goes on.

          Baloney. Yes, the theme of love appears a lot in the Bible and Christian tradition. But so do the themes of war, destruction, sin, judgment, damnation. You’re cherry-picking the bits you want to emphasize and ignoring the bits you find embarrassing and inconvenient.

          1. Gary:
            Re: “There is no independent arbiter of “true” Christianity. Christianity is a matter of what people who call themselves Christians preach and practise. Their record is not a good one”

            Consider this: There are tens of thousands of people who subscribe to “Creation Science.” They present all sorts of things to support their postion, presented by ‘”degreed” persons, and it is claimed to be “science.” Is that science? I guess you would say so since that would be the “matter of what people who call themselves “scienctists” practice.” Hogwash! They are no more scientists nor are their rediculous evidences credible because they cannot stand the test of what science has long established itself to be!
            Likewise, there is indeed an arbiter of “true” Christiantiy, that being the Bible. Granted there are variations in interpretation, but considering this discussion there would be virtually no desagreement with my “hallmark.”

            Re: “Baloney. Yes, the theme of love appears a lot in the Bible and Christian tradition. But so do the themes of war, destruction, sin, judgment, damnation.”

            There are many themes within the Christian tradition including those you name. It is history, poetry, allegory, prophecy, parable, etc. But most of what you refer to, is aside from that which is taught about the morality of human behavior, that being summarized by the Ten Commandments in the Old Testement, and the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testement. Each lays out how individuals are to act toward others, and the central theme is love and respect for others. When followed, it yields pretty good results. Yes, I was “cherry picking” those things that are relevant to our discussion. When you identify “Christians” who behave badly in your eyes, they in most all cases would be violating basic Christian ethical teaching.

    2. That’s quite a Quest your Dungeon Master gave you. 2000 years have gone by and nothing much in the way of success yet. Not sure why He didn’t close the Book on you lot a long, long time ago and bring on the End Times. Wait, I think I do know.

      Could it be the players made up the whole scenario themselves – the invisible DM, the rule book, just so they had the power, including ordering the superstitious masses into gloriously bloody battles on a regular basis?

      An omnipotent god could have stopped Truman (a Southern Baptist)in hundreds of ways. Truman didn’t have to do it militarily, but he wanted to send a message to the godless communists in the USSR, make them pull in their horns a little. Didn’t work. The message they took home from it was that they had to acquire the bomb themselves and quickly.

    3. I’ll make you a deal, Phoenix: If I grant that Science is to blame for the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives snuffed out by the atom bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you have to grant that Religion is to blame for the millions of innocent lives snuffed out in the Holocaust. Okay?

      1. Great point! We have a deal! I had completely overlooked your profound insight that the Holocaust was caused by the Jews being so in-your-face religious that the secularists were irresistibly compelled to murder them [ultimately excused through the “no-free-will” clause in the UN charter]. Gives a whole new meaning to Hitch’s “religion poisons everything” — even itself!

        1. Your comment is a bit of a mashup of ideas & I can’t be sure were the sarcasm begins & ends. It’s further confused by throwing in free will. It’s like a mini Gish gallop…


          Are you sure you mean “secularists”? Religious people are often secularists too.

          I agree with your last point ~ religion does indeed poison itself. I think this is because it’s such a profitable industry that plays on peoples need to be part of a community & most peoples fear of death. What do you think?

    4. Dear Religion,
      Ah, yes, that “Gott Mit Uns” peace which resulted in 12 million killed, of whom 6 million were Jews, just over half a century ago. Not to mention current “witch” burnings and other vicious, often lethal, forms of child abuse in the name of Christianity. I guess that’s what you mean by love, i.e., “love you to death.”
      P.S. I’m not forgetting your earlier acts of “love”, either. — S.

      1. Dear Doc:
        Am I to understand that you have bought into Dawkins’ ridiclous conclusion that Hitler was Christian? He, in his atheism, was continually being pummeled by the embarrassing reminder that Hitler, Marx, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were likewise athiests and responsible to 10’s of millions of murders; and while he could not deny the latter ones, he did find that Hitler [a politician trying to get religious support] claimed to be Christian. Find me a historian who concludes that this was anything other than a political ploy. In any case, there is not one thing about Hitler’s being that remotely bares the mark of Christian behavior. Burning witches is not a tenant of Christianity, nor do I recall any recommendations for the leathal abuse children.

  10. The hardware footprint on the Martian surface matches what you would expect to find given the landing sequence as described in the video.

    The dance of the robots…

    to the cosmic fugue.

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