Having a couple of satellites overhead does not hurt, if you want to have spectacular pictures of your latest baby on Mars. And like all proud parents the teams behind the cameras on the Mars satellites love to show off their images. The above image was taken on August 17, sol 12 of Curiosity on Mars, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The image is a treasure trove of details, such as the shadow of the mast on Curiosity. The MRO was positioned directly overhead when this image was obtained.
The cutouts of the image are showing the rover and other hardware or ground markings from the landing of the Mars. North is up. The scale bar is 200 meters (one-eighth of a mile).
The shadow of Curiosity’s mast extends southeast from the rover.
Dark spots on the left-side cutouts created streaks radial to the descent-stage impact site. They may be from far-flung rocks or objects associated with the impact. Seven bright spots associated with the descent stage crash site, as well, may be pieces of hardware.
There are also bright pieces scattered around the backshell, mostly downrange, and interesting detail in the parachute. The rover is approximately 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) away from the heat shield, about 615 meters (2,020 feet) away from the parachute and back shell, and approximately 650 meters (2,100 feet) away from the discoloration consistent with the impact of the sky crane.
Each cutout is individually stretched to best show the information without saturation. A special noise cleaning method was applied to the images by Paul Geissler of U.S. Geological Survey.
The pixel scale is about 27 centimeters (11 inches) per pixel.
HiRISE imaged the spacecraft during its descent. On top the deployed parachute is visible. In the cutout below the heat shield is visible. The heat shield was ejected from the rover and its back shell before this image was taken. As there is no dust cloud visible the heat shield is most probably still in free flight, because, if it were to have already hit the surface, it would have kicked up a dust cloud.
About a day later the HiRISE camera took a picture of the landing site, capturing the rover and various pieces of its landing parts.
Around the rover there are streaks visible in the soil caused by sky crane thrusters. Two streaks are seen to move away from the rover at its landing site, a two sided symmetrical pattern. The darkened radial jets from the sky crane are downrange from the point of impact, reminding us of the impacts of asteroids. These streaks seem to be pointing at where the Curiosity rover is standing.
The rest of the hardware is around the rover in a circle about a little over 2.1 kilometer.
The sequence of the impacts on Mars were:
1) the heat shield hits the ground
2) the back shell attached to the parachute hits
3) the Curiosity rover itself touches down
4) the sky crane crashed, after the cables to the rover were cut and it flew away.
Everywhere a part of the MSL landing system hit the surface of Mars, darker surface of Mars beneath the brighter dust becomes visible.
Six days later HiRISE took another very high resolution image (1 pixel = 36 centimeters) image of the landing site of Curiosity.
In this color-enhanced view the surface of Mars around the rover is colored blue to show where the trusthers of the sky crane disturbed the soil. True colors on Mars would be more gray.
Other products from the same HiRISE observation can be found here
HiRISE is one of six instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates the orbiter’s HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado.