Looking backwards along a rover’s path on Mars

A couple of weeks ago, controllers of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars had to decide whether to send the rover over some potentially hazardous Martian terrain. A sand dune stood directly in the rover’s path as it makes its way toward the base of Mount Sharp, the central peak in Gale Crater on Mars. They decided the rover could do it, and, indeed, last week, it did successfully surmount this obstacle, crossing from one side of the Martian dune to the other. The series of nine images making up this animation were taken by the rover, as it drove over the dune, which spans a place called Dingo Gap. Curiosity made this 23-foot (7 meter) drive during Sol 535 – that is, the 535th day of Curiosity’s work on Mars – February 6, 2014.

Looking back along Curiosity's path on Mars
Looking back along Curiosity’s path on Mars

At the start of the drive, the rover’s right-front wheel was already at the crest of the 3-foot-tall (1-meter-tall) dune, with the rover still pointed uphill. By the last three images in the series, the rover was headed downhill.

The light-toned dome on the right side of the horizon is part of Mount Sharp. This drive was westward. The rover’s long-term destination on the lower slope of Mount Sharp is still farther west and south from the rover’s current location.

Dingo Gap provided an entryway into a valley to the west. The valley appealed to the rover team as a driving route because its terrain includes fewer sharp rocks than alternative routes considered.


Bottom line: Movie of the Curiosity rover’s passage over a sand dune spanning a place called Dingo Gap on Mars. In the course of this movie – which is made of nine still images looking backward along the rover’s path – Curiosity moves 23 feet (7 meters).

February 12, 2014

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