Curiosity’s camera arm snaps first night shots on Mars

Martian Surface at Night
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In a recent statement, NASA announced the Mars Rover Curiosity began the first nighttime observations with the help of its camera arm the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The goal is to study environmental conditions near a rock formation where the rover may drill in the Gale Crater.

The rock, named “Sayunei” proved to be a good target as Curiosity’s front wheel had scraped the rock, yielding some "fresh, dust-free materials" to close in on. MAHLI took the images on January 22, 2012, after dark on the 165th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. The images were received here on Earth on January 23.

The MAHLI was specifically tasked with looking at the area with UV light to see if any fluorescent materials were present. The MAHILI is an adjustable-focus color camera and has two ultraviolet LED illumination sources emitting light in a waveband centered at a wavelength of 365 nanometers. The two light sources allowed the images to capture depth and texture by casting shadows. Each exposure was just 30 seconds.

Though to us the pictures may look like a wide expanse of the surface, the NASA statement reveals what we are looking at is really an area about 1.3 inches by 1 inch.

The images are still being studied by NASA to determine if any fluorescent minerals were uncovered, and if so, what they might be. Various minerals will cast off variety of different colors under fluorescent light, so we’ll have to stay tuned to see what these night shots have uncovered.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the Curiosity mission is to investigate whether Mars may have supported some sort of life. So, what do minerals have to do with it all? Well, the more we know about the surface, the more we can deduce if critters of some sort might have liked it there, or what kind of natural life Mars could theoretically support.


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