Mars rover update: Curiosity meets a rock named Jake and photographs a moon

NASA/JPL
Curiosity says hello to a rock named Jake. Hi, Jake!

The big news from the red planet this week was Curiosity’s discovery of an ancient streambed, which lends even more proof to the theory that water once flowed freely on Mars’s surface. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty more to catch up on in this week’s update!

Readjusting to a Martian schedule

In our last update, we touched upon the time difference on Mars compared to Earth. A recent article over at Space.com explores the problem with the 40-minute extension of a day on Mars as it applies to the scientists leading the operation back on the green planet.

Since a day lasts longer on Mars, and since the Curiosity rover requires constant attention, scientists have found ways to readjust their internal clocks to keep themselves on a new schedule.

Back in 2008, during the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, Stephen W. Lockley, a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital “investigated the effectiveness of a pilot program to educate the mission personnel on how to reset their body clocks more quickly and how to improve their sleep, alertness and performance.” This included taking naps, drinking smaller portions of coffee throughout the day, using light boxes, and staying on a Martian schedule even on days off. The study proved successful, and the men and women being observed were more alert and their performance increased after readjusting themselves.

Touched by a rover

Before setting out on the first leg of its big trek across Mars, Curiosity tested a few of its instruments on a strange looking rock named “Jake Matijevic” after the rover’s surface operations systems chief engineer, who died in August at the age of 64. This is the first rock Curiosity has been in direct contact with since landing.

In our previous update, we discussed both the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) as the rover was going through a health checkup. Now Curiosity has finally had the chance to test both tools out on “Jake,” as Fox News points out. Curiosity also zapped the rock with a laser, and although I like to believe that NASA just wanted to blow up a rock, the vaporized pieces of the rock were apparently used to read the rock’s composition and calibrate the instruments on the robot’s arm.

If Curiosity ever does actually blow something up, you can be assured it will make it into a future update.

Snapping Phobos

We couldn’t have a Mars rover update without some pretty pictures, no matter how grainy they may be. In the two weeks since our last update, the Mars rover has managed to take pictures of Phobos, the larger moon orbiting Mars (Deimos being the smaller of the two), both during a partial solar eclipse and in the middle of the day, Discovery reports.

The first image from the rover’s Mastcam shows the natural satellite—which measures 17 miles across—eclipsing a miniscule portion of the sun and creating the visage of a terrifying, omniscient eyeball in space.

NASA/JPL

The next image is much less startling, but no less impressive: Curiosity managed to scope out a view of Phobos’ crescent during the day:

NASA/JPL

The Mars rover is finding just as much to observe looking up as it is looking down. Expect to see many more pictures in the coming weeks and months. Here’s hoping for water on Mars by November!

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