Curiosity Sends Back its First Color Image of Mars From its 17-Camera Arsenal
Even though it just landed this past weekend, the Curiosity rover is already hard at work. On Tuesday, NASA received its first color image from the car-sized rover of the surrounding Gale Crater, where it will begin its scientific mission to find evidence of water and life forms on Mars.
The above image was taken by one of Curiosity’s 17 on-board cameras called the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The picture is particularly murky because the MAHLI’s removable dust cover is coated with a layer of Martian dust that was thrown on to the camera during the rover’s decent on the rocket crane.
MAHLI (photo at right) is a two-megapixel color camera that sits on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. The camera was mainly designed to do macro work for the microscopic inspection of Martian rocks and soil.
The photo below, taken by Curiosity's Hazard-Avoidance cameras, was among the first photos taken by the rover to confirm its safe landing on Mars.
As its name suggests, the Hazard-Avoidance cameras help prevent Curiosity from rolling over any damaging debris. The rover has a total of eight of these one-megapixel monochromatic cameras arranged in pairs along the its front and back.
Freaking Rovers With Freaking Lasers
Moving onto the top of Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL aka Curiosity) head or main mast is a ChemCam that will help the rover analyze rocks from afar. The camera quite literally zaps rocks with a laser while a built-in telescope and spectrometer analyze the composition of the material. The ChemCam uses an infrared laser that's powerful enough to vaporize a small portion of rock from up to 23 feet (7 meters) away.
Once the rover starts moving, you’ll probably see a lot of images from its main Navcams located on the rover's "cheeks.” As with previous rovers, Curiosity will be controlled remotely with an incredible amount of lag, so it'll only be able to move a few inches at a time. These cameras will be the main eyes for Curiosity’s Earth-bound operators, giving them a 45-degree window of the Martian landscape.
MastCams: Take a Look Around
Of course, none of these photos will compare to the pictures taken by Curiosity’s two MastCams located toward the center of MSL’s main mast. These cameras, designed by Malin Space Science Systems, will be able to take large color images of Mars's surface, as well as record 720p video, snap 360-degree panoramas, and even act together as a 3D camera.
The two MastCams come equipped with different lenses: One has a 34mm f/8 lens that covers a 15-degree field of view, while the other uses a 100mm f/10 lens with a much narrower 5.1-degree field of view.
The cameras share the same 1600 by 1200-pixel CCD sensor (2 megapixels). Both cameras are also fitted with a filter wheel to take images in the visible light or infrared light spectrum, as well as neutral density filters for viewing the sun.
Hopefully NASA will take the wraps off of these two great cameras so we can start seeing some high-definition Mars landscapes.
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