Mars rover Curiosity takes a self-portrait

And looks a little like a spider. If there is life on Mars, and if its sentient, the new Mars roving laboratory, Curiosity, might look a little frightening. There most likely isn’t sentient life on Mars; there might not be life on Mars at all. There may have been in the past, and not now. Or maybe never. We just don’t know. (Luckily we have Science Fiction, where we can let our imaginations run wild and examine the what ifs…has anyone written a sci-fi novel featuring a Mars rover as a main character?) Anyway, back in the realm of facts and unanswered questions, Curiosity is snapping photographs and slowly coming to lift on the base of Gale Crater on Mars, next planet out from Earth. This is a mosaic compiled of about 20 different images, and it’s the equivalent of an arm’s length self-portrait. Check out the crater rim in the distance.

 

Here’s another panoramic mosaic, showing Mt. Sharp, the crater’s central mountain. Looks small, but it’s over 18,000 feet high, as high as Mt. McKinley/Denali in Alaska. Mt. Sharp’s official name is Aeolis Mons, and you can learn more such trivia on its own wikipedia page.

Mt. Sharp, or rather the base of Mt. Sharp, is Curiosity’s destination. The reason why is embedded in this description of the areology of the mountain, again from wikipedia (I’m not in school, so I can use wikipedia with impunity, and I think it’s one of the wonders of the postmodern world):

The mountain appears to be an enormous mound of eroded sedimentary layers sitting on the central peak of Gale. It rises 5.5 km (18,000 ft) above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern crater floor, higher than the southern crater rim. The sediments may have been laid down over an interval of 2 billion years, and may have once completely filled the crater. Some of the lower sediment layers may have originally been deposited on a lakebed, while observations of possibly cross-bedded strata in the upper mound suggest aeolian processes. However, this issue is debated, and the origin of the lower layers remains unclear.

Sediment is the thing to study on Mars at the moment, and for good reason. Areologists are trying to unlock at a distance the hydraulic history of the Red Planet, and figure out what Mars might have been like, and how it reached its present state as a relatively parched, cold desert. Understanding the changes in climate on Mars may have some important ramifications for our understanding of such things on earth, home to billions of sentient beings whose continued existence may depend on such things. Travel safe, little rover, and bring home the bacon.

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