NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity set off from its landing vicinity on Tuesday (August 28, 2012) on a trek to its first major driving destination – Glenelg – about a quarter mile (400 meters) away. The rover drove eastward about 52 feet (16 meters) on Tuesday. This was the rover’s third drive on Mars, and it was longer than the first two drives combined.
The two previous drives tested the mobility system and positioned the rover to examine an area scoured by exhaust left on Mars’ surface during the rover’s landing. Now Curiosity is actually heading toward Glenelg, which is a place on Mars where three types of terrain intersect.
By the way, in the coming weeks and months, as you hear NASA scientists speak of the rover, you’re likely to hear them speaking in terms of Martian sols. Planetary and space scientists use the term sol to refer to the length of a day on Mars. A mean Martian solar day, or sol, is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds – only slightly longer than an earthly day. The similarity in the length of a day on Earth and on Mars has always been one attractive and fascinating feature of the Red Planet.
When a spacecraft lander begins operations on Mars, it keeps track of the passing Martian days (sols) by a simple numerical count. In other words, the count begins with Sol 0 – the day the lander touched down. Tuesday was Sol 22 for Curiosity – its 22nd martian day.
Curiosity’s drive on Sol 22 imprinted the wheel tracks visible in the image in this post. The rover’s rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Hazcam) took the image after the drive.
Bottom line: NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity hit the road toward its first destination on Mars, a place called Glenelg, on Tuesday, August 28. That day was Sol 22 for Curiosity, its 22nd martian day. As it began moving eastward toward Glenelg, it left tracks on the Martian surface, shown in the photo in this post.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.