Tag Archives: Rover

New mystery rock shows up in MER-Opportunity photo

22 Jan

Just ahead of it it’s 10th birthday on the red planet, Opportunity has started a discussion around new rock!

Two images taken of the rover’s work area, taken two weeks apart, show that a new doughnut-sized white rock has appeared – apparently out of nowhere.

NASA said Tuesday, “the site is on ‘Murray Ridge’ – a section of the rim of Endeavour Crater where Opportunity is working on north-facing slopes during the rover’s sixth Martian winter.”

Currently two theories have arisen as to where the new rock may have come from.

The first idea put forward by scientists is that the rover itself may have dislodged the rock with its wheels while driving around. Additionally, the white coloration could be a result of the wheels flipping the rock over and exposing the underside.

The new mystery rock has been named ‘Pinnacle Island’ and has excited scientists working on the mission.

In a statement on Tuesday, NASA said, “much of the rock is bright-toned, nearly white. A portion is deep red in color. Pinnacle Island may have been flipped upside-down when a wheel dislodged it, providing an unusual circumstance for examining the underside of a Martian rock.”

This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a bright rock onto the scene. (NASA/JPL)

This before-and-after pair of images of the same patch of ground in front of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity 13 days apart documents the arrival of a bright rock onto the scene. (NASA/JPL)

All the other rocks in the area appear the more typical Mars reddish-brown.

The second theory is that a meteorite may have impacted the surface somewhere nearby and this rock, which does look unlike other rocks in the area. The new mystery rock could be a small fragment of the meteorite.

The first image of the area was taken on December 26, 2013 on Sol 3528. The second image was taken on January 8, 2014 on Sol 3540.

A ‘Sol’ refers to a Martian day, which is 40 minutes longer than an Earth-day.

The Sol reference number explains the number of days since Opportunity landed on Mars a decade ago – on January 25, 2004.

Opportunity has far exceeded its original mission, which was set to last for 90 days. (there are some festivities planned for later in the week the celebrate the anniversary)

The images for this mystery were taken using Opportunity’s panoramic camera, or ‘Pancam’.

If either theory is true about where this rock came from, what a great opportunity (pardon the pun) for science!

Isn’t it great that we have robots out there to investigate things like this?

Though the flip side: imagine how much we must be missing because space is very dynamic and we only have a few robots out there watching.

(A newsy version of this article also appears on Sun News Network)

Chang’e-3 lands on the Moon, successfully deploys Yutu rover

14 Dec
Yutu drives off Chang'e-3 lander successfully

Yutu drives off Chang’e-3 lander successfully

It’s the first Moon landing in my lifetime, and if you’re under age 37 it’s the first one in your lifetime as well.

On Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 8:11 a.m. EST the robotic Chinese lander Chang’e-3, and it’s rover named Yutu, touched down safely on the lunar surface. This historic landing is the first Moon landing for China, making them only the third nation to safely land a probe on our closest celestial neighbour.

The Yutu rover successfully separated just after 4:00 p.m. EST.

This is the first object to safely land on the Moon since the Soviet robotic mission Luna 24 landed on August 22, 1976.

The last time humans were on the Moon was December 11-14, 1972 during the last of NASA’s Apollo missions, Apollo 17. This also places added historical significance on today’s date – December 14 – as it is both the last time a human was on the Moon in 1972, and today’s first Chinese landing.

Chang’e-3 launched on December 2 and then took about four days to reach lunar orbit. From December 6-14, the orbit was being adjusted in order to setup today’s descent and landing.

Today’s landing, considered one of the biggest challenges of the mission, consisted of approximately 12-minutes of powered descent towards the surface. When the lander was just a couple meters above the surface, the engine shutdown as planned. This allowed the lander to float down safely, but also minimized the amount of dust that would have been kicked up if powered flight continued all the way to the surface.

After landing the vitally important solar panels deployed successfully and began powering the lander and rover.

When Yutu was deployed, it drove forwards onto a small ramp and was the lowered to the surface. All six of it’s wheels then drove off the ramp and onto the lunar surface, leaving clear tracks behind it as it slowly moved along.

The touchdown happened in an area of the Moon known as The Bay of Rainbow.

China’s first two missions to the Moon, Chang’e 1 and 2, were both orbiters. They had no intention of landing. Chang’e-3 was the country’s first attempt at landing.

In Chinese mythology, Chang’e is a goddess that travels to the Moon. Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, is her companion.

The Yutu rover is expected to operate for about three months while the Chang’e-3 lander should operate for about one year on the surface of the Moon.

This article by Harrison Ruess also appeared on Sun News Network.

Looking down towards the lunar surface from Chang'e-3 during descent

Looking down towards the lunar surface from Chang’e-3 during descent

View from Chang'e-3 shortly after touchdown

View from Chang’e-3 shortly after touchdown

Yutu will drive onto the ramp to be lowered to the surface

Yutu will drive onto the ramp to be lowered to the surface

Yutu on its way down to the surface

Yutu on its way down to the surface

Yutu exiting the ramp and onto the surface of the Moon

Yutu exiting the ramp and onto the surface of the Moon

Yutu on the surface of the Moon

Yutu on the surface of the Moon

The control room

The control room

The landing process

The landing process

Yutu is on it’s way to the Moon!

2 Dec
Liftoff

Liftoff

In a spectacular launch reminiscent of the Apollo-era missions, China successfully launched a robotic mission to the Moon.

On Sunday at 12:30pm EST (1:30am December 2, Beijing time) China’s space agency launched a modified Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province. Atop this rocket sat the Chang’e 3 lunar lander and a rover named ‘Yutu’ – which means Jade Rabbit, the pet rabbit of the Moon goddess Chang’e.

When the lander touches down in mid-December it will be the first soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet probe Luna 24 touched down on the lunar surface 37 years ago.

A live English-language webcast allowed viewers around the world to follow the launch. The broadcast was provided by China’s state-run television network CCTV.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket was 55m (185 feet) tall when it launched, or about the height of a 15-story building.

Following separation from the rocket, Chang’e 3 successfully deployed its landing legs and solar panels.

On December 6, Chang’e 3 will fire its engines to enter lunar orbit. This will set up a December 14 landing.

Coincidentally, December 14 is the last day a human was on the moon. This was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The Yutu rover is powered primarily by solar panels; however it also has a small nuclear power source to provide heat to its instruments during the Moon’s nights – when the temperature drops to a chilling minus 170° Celsius.

Yutu is 1.5 meters tall and weighs approximately 120 kilograms.

Chang’e 3 is China’s third mission to the Moon. Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 were both lunar orbiting missions. They launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively.

This article by Harrison Ruess was originally posted on the Sun News Network

China's Long March 3B rocket launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province at 1:30am Beijing time on December 2, 2013. Atop this rocket sits the robotic Chang'e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province at 1:30am Beijing time on December 2, 2013. Atop this rocket sits the robotic Chang’e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover.

China's Long March 3B rocket successful separates its second and third stages.

China’s Long March 3B rocket successful separates its second and third stages.

China's Chang'e 3 is seen moments after successfully separating from its launch rocket on December 2, 2013 Beijing time. The robotic Chang'e 3 mission is on route to a December 14 landing on the Moon.

China’s Chang’e 3 is seen moments after successfully separating from its launch rocket on December 2, 2013 Beijing time. The robotic Chang’e 3 mission is on route to a December 14 landing on the Moon.