Self Portrait on Mars

A mosaic of images that Mars rover Spirit took of itselfImage credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
Click image to learn more and see a larger version.

Two new links have made it into the 'space' section of my sidebar. One that I highly recommend is Riding with Robots, a website that aims to collect the best, prettiest and most thought-provoking of all the images from space being posted onto the Internet by NASA, ESA, JAXA and others.

Via Riding with Robots, I've also found where the majority of the processed Mars rover images are posted online. I had naively assumed the best of the lot would end up on the official NASA page, as is the case with obvious Space Cat favourite Cassini, however it seems that the best Mars rover images are to be found on the official Cornell University website for the rovers' panoramic camera (or 'pancam'), which you can find here.

It is, unfortunately, the most dial-up unfriendly website I have ever seen, with pages consisting of hundreds of large thumbnails, and with a different huge background image for each page, so I'm kind of glad to have Bill at Riding with Robots go through the images and pick out stuff like the one above.

One of the chief reasons the rovers weren't expected to last as long as they have is because dust accumulates on their solar panels, slowly cutting them off from their power source: the sun. NASA was surprised then, when the rovers started experiencing 'cleaning events', whereby the power generated by the solar panels would suddenly increase after steadily dropping. Although the term 'cleaning event' conjures images of little green men with squeegies pouncing on the rovers when they're stopped at traffic lights, they've now conclusively been linked with strong gusts of wind.

In the above image, the rover Spirit cranes around to look down at itself, seeing that much of the dust on its solar panels has recently been blown away. Handy, in fact, given that the rovers are now both (as far as I last heard) in a large dust storm that is threatening to blot out much of the sunlight they are receiving.

UPDATE: Emily Lakdawalla reports that NASA is certain the rovers are going to be unaffected by the dust storm.


zhoen said...

Like a cat licking it's own throat.

I restrained my mentions of other bits it could be looking at.

geosomin said...

I always wonder how these machines take pictures of themselves...it's like the famous shot of the Apollo mission landers launching off the moon form the surface of the moon - how'd they shoot that and get the camera angle right...did they practice beforeh and or was it automated? I can't even open a can of soup without help so things like this amaze and astonish me :)

I'm still agape that the Mars rovers are still running after so long...very cool!

susanna said...

Interesting post, Pacian. And that's an incredible self portrait, isn't it? .

Tinker said...

I like the idea of a 'cleaning event' as long as I'm not the one doing the cleaning!

Are you sure it's not little green men with squeegee's? Could be where my housecleaning elves went to...