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NASA releases surreal photo of “blue” sand dunes on Mars

NASA has recently released an intriguing photo of sand dunes on Mars. It shows blue dunes on the so-called Red Planet. Although it’s a false-color image, it still looks surreal and captivating, and the story behind it is pretty interesting. First of all, this isn’t a single photo, nor it’s new. In fact, it was […]

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NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Takes Selfie with the Ingenuity Drone

While Curiosity recently shared the latest of several selfies it has captured over the years, NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover was not to be outdone, and in its first-ever selfie, it decided to share the spotlight with the Ingenuity drone.

As Digital Trends reports, Perseverance took the selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter drone which is about 13 feet away from the body of the rover. Perseverance captured the picture by using one of its robotic arms. The picture was created from 62 images taken by Perseverance’s WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. In this case, think of that long arm as a selfie stick.

Those 62 images were sent back to earch where NASA stiched them together into the finished images below. NASA says the images were taken in sequence while the rover was looking at the drone and then again while it was looking at the camera. The finished stiched images come together into these beautifully massive 112-megapixel photos:

To give an idea of how large the two photos are, NASA shared this up-close crop of the selfie that is 4180 x 2350 pixels in size, just a small portion of the giant 12,341 x 9,076 pixel full image. The full resolution files can be downloaded here.

In addition to the still frames above, NASA also put together a gif to show how the Perseverance rover’s “head” moved back and forth between looking at Ingenuity and into the lens of the selfie camera.

If it is hard to picture how NASA’s rovers take selfies, the organization has explained that in detail here as well as in the videos below.

These new selfie photos come after Perseverance successfully deployed Ingenuity from its position under the rover in advance of a test flight that is scheduled to take place early this month. Before this stage, Perseverance first had to drive to the “airfield” where Ingenuity would be dropped off so that it could charge its solar-powered battery.

Now that it has been deployed, it has 30 Martian days (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flights.

As can be imagined, flying a camera drone on Mars is no easy task. According to NASA, not only does the Red Planet have less gravity than Earth (about one-third the amount), the atmosphere is just 1% as dense. For more on what NASA is doing ahead of that monumental task, check out PetaPixel’s earlier coverage here.

NASA releases new and improved image of stunning Veil Nebula

NASA first released Hubble image of Veil Nebula in 2015. And now, six years later, the scientists have revisited it and re-edited it to make it look even more impressive. With a new set of filters applied, the photo now shows a more realistic and more detailed view of the Veil Nebula than before, and […]

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Curiosity rover’s latest photo looks like a tourist selfie

Ever since it was launched to Mars, and especially since it landed, all eyes have been on the NASA Perseverance rover. The hype has been so great that we almost forgot about of its “big brother,” Curiosity. But it has reminded us of his presence on Mars with the latest photo it took, and it […]

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NASA is Gearing Up to Fly a Camera Drone Above Mars

NASA is targetting early April for the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, a drone that will mark the organization’s first attempt at a powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet where it will hover over the surface and capture aerial images.

Ingenuity is currently attached to the base of NASA”s Perseverance rover, which has been on the surface of Mars since February 18 and has already set back multiple sets of images ranging from curious test shots of its landing area to breathtaking panoramic vistas.

The rover is currently in transit to what NASA is calling an “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt to fly. As Engadget reports, once it is deployed, it will have 30 Martian days (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flights. The location, a 33-by-33 foot stretch of terrain within the Jezero Crater, was selected for its relative flatness.

As can be imagined, flying a camera drone on Mars is no easy task. According to NASA, not only does the Red Planet have less gravity than Earth (about one-third the amount), the atmosphere is just 1% as dense.

“During Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth during its daytime, and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components,” NASA says. “To fit within the available accommodations provided by the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter must be small. To fly in the Mars environment, it must be lightweight. To survive the frigid Martian nights, it must have enough energy to power internal heaters. The system – from the performance of its rotors in rarified air to its solar panels, electrical heaters, and other components – has been tested and retested in the vacuum chambers and test labs of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.”

After Ingenuity has been dropped off by Perseverance, the rover will carefully drive away and allow the helicopter drone to charge its solar cells. If all goes according to plan, Ingenuity will raise itself above the surface at a rate of about three feet per second (1 meter per second) and will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.

This image shows the flight zone of NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter from the perspective of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

“Several hours after the first flight has occurred, Perseverance will downlink Ingenuity’s first set of engineering data and, possibly, images and video from the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z,” NASA explains. “From the data downlinked that first evening after the flight, the Mars Helicopter team expect to be able to determine if their first attempt to fly at Mars was a success.”

The next day, all the remaining engineering data, as well as low-resolution black and white images from the helicopter, will make its way back to Earth. Another day later, two images taken by the helicopter’s high-resolution color camera should arrive. Once all this data is gathered, NASA can then determine the next course of action.

The amount of effort and ingenuity — no pun intended — it is going to take to successfully complete these tests is nearly unbelievable. In addition to the challenging conditions of the Red Planet’s surface, it currently takes radio signals about 11 minutes, 22 seconds to travel between Earth and Mars. Successfully flying a drone in a hostile environment with that kind of delay seems near impossible, but considering what NASA has achieved thus far with Perseverance, NASA may not know the meaning of the word.


Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The moon landing couldn’t have been faked because the required lighting gear simply didn’t exist

In a world filled with conspiracy theories these days, there’s one old one that still just refuses to die. The number of people who still believe the moon landings didn’t happen is still pretty high – which should come as no surprise given the path the planet’s taken over the last year or six. But […]

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Feast your eyes on more stunning Mars photos from Perseverance rover

It’s been around two weeks now since NASA’s Perseverance rover sent its first image from Mars. As time goes by, NASA’s gallery is being filled with more and more photos of the Red Planet, giving us an insight into the look of its surface. If you’d like to roam the Jezero crater with Perseverance, take […]

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NASA Shares Two Perspectives of Perseverance’s Landing Position

The Mars Perseverance Rover has been sharing thousands of images since it landed on the surface of the Red Planet on February 18. This past week, the rover sent back a few landscape photos of its position taken by its MastCam-Z, juxtaposed with an aerial view from orbit.

NASA first published an image of the Perseverance’s location on the planet via an enhanced photo taken by HiRISE, six days after the rover touched down on the surface. From the orbital view, the landing site appears to be covered in loose dark material with something brighter underneath.

NASA/JPL/UArizona

“You can see the two bright zones to the sides of the rover that have been scoured clear by the descent stage rockets and the dark material appears to have been funneled outward both in front and behind the rover,” HiRISE scientist Shane Byrne writes in a blog post. “HiRISE can see Perseverance every few days by rolling the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to the side as it passes overhead (eighteen degrees for this image). Perseverance is about 3 by 2.7 meters (10 feet by 9 feet) in size and is about 290 kilometers (180 miles) away from HiRISE in this image.”

The photo was shared on Twitter by the HiRISE account, to which the Perseverance’s account was quick to respond.

“Thanks for looking out for me, HiRISE. Long before I got here, you helped map this place out. Now we’ve got a whole new perspective. So much to explore,” the account wrote and shared a beautiful landscape image of the area from the rover’s point of view.

Earlier today, the Perseverance shared another photo of the surface, this one positioned in a different direction where many rocks dot the foreground while a mountain in the background is obscured by dusty haze.

These high-resolution images were taken with the Perseverance Rover’s MastCam-Z, a feat of engineering that is capable of capturing 3D images and video and features some impressive technology. You can read more about the Mastcam-Z here.

Perseverance has spent the majority of its time on Mars thus far performing health checkups on its systems in preparation for its mission.

On March 5 at 12:30 PM PT, NASA will be hosting a live stream where it will discuss the many “firsts” that the Perseverance has achieved in its short time on Mars.


Image Credits: Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Closer Look at the Mars Perseverance Rover’s Incredible Cameras

The Mars Perseverance Rover, which already has sent back some incredible images from the Red Planet, is equipped with 23 cameras designed for a host of tasks. Its main camera array is particularly impressive, able to see details as small as a tip of a pencil close by, and the size of an almond from a football field away in 3D.

The cameras on Perseverance have three main improvements over those that flew on Curiosity: they can take color images, they have a wider field of view, and they have more resolution. In total, these three aspects greatly improve the quality of images taken by even the rover’s engineering cameras.

The diagram below shows an approximation of where the many different cameras are on the rover. There are nine engineering cameras, seven science cameras, and seven entry, descent, and landing cameras. Included in this batch is the Mastcam-Z, possibly the rover’s most impressive camera.

Via Image Sensors World

The Mastcam-Z is what the mast-mounted camera system is called and it is actually two cameras that work together to produce 3D stereoscopic images. It can zoom, focus, and take pictures and video at high speed to allow for detailed examinations of distant objects. It is the highest-resolution color imaging system yet sent to Mars and is the first camera system sent to the Red Planet with built-in zoom capability.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

“Mastcam-Z is a multi-color, stereo imaging system on NASA’s Perseverance rover,” the camera’s description reads.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

“Mastcam-Z uses a pair of focusable, zoomable cameras on the rover’s mast to image in ‘human-like’ red/green/blue colors and in ultraviolet and infrared colors just beyond the range of human color perception. At maximum zoom, the cameras see features as small as the tip of a pencil close by, and the size of an almond from a football field away.”

According to the technical specifications, the Mastcam-Z is capable of resolving between about 150 microns per pixel (0.15 millimeter or 0.0059 inches) to 7.4 millimeters (0.3 inches) per pixel depending on the distance.

The zooming mechanism itself is an engineering marvel, as shown below:

As explained by Redditor redmercuryvendor, the optical design of the Mastcam-Z shares similarities to the zoom lenses on consumer cameras, but the zoom mechanism itself is different.

“Zoom lenses for regular cameras run inside the helicoids, which are visible here too (the curved tracks that guide the lens mounts), but they run on just the helicoids,” redmercuryvendor explains. “A little grease and some lubricious bushing materials and they slide in and out just fine. But as anyone who’s played with an old lens has probably found, even a smoothly operating lens will degrade and become tough to move over time as the grease breaks down and becomes sticky, and eventually a lens can ‘lock up’ and require disassembly for cleaning and regreasing.”

Clearly, this would be an issue when the lens can’t be repaired because it’s on a different planet.

“You can’t do that on Mars, so instead the lens elements run on precision linear rails with recirculating ball slides, and the focusing helicoids just perform the job of moving the lenses, not supporting them too. The ball slides can be manufactured and operated without any grease, so there is no volatile material to degrade in the thin atmosphere.”

The two identical cameras (except for small differences in the color filters) that make up the Mastcam-Z camera system are mounted about 2 meters (6.5 feet) above the surface, on the rover’s Remote Sensing Mast separated by 9.5 inches to provide stereo vision.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-CALTECH

“Each camera consists of four major subsystems: A digital CCD sensor and electronics box, an 8-position filter wheel, a multi-lens zoom assembly, and a single-lens focusing assembly,” the Mastcam-Z’s description reads. “A short light shade helps reduce scattered light in the optics. A separate Digital Electronics Assembly is mounted inside the rover, and two calibration targets are mounted on the rover deck.”

Below is a cross-sectional CAD view and ray-trace diagram of the Mastcam-Z optics. You can see two small motors that drive the zoom and focus mechanisms.

Below is a CAD animation and cross-sectional view of the focus mechanism in action:

Mastcam-Z can zoom from wide-angle to telephoto and take photos in up to 11 unique colors. It shoots in a 1600×1200 pixel range and can zoom from 26-110mm as well as rotate a full 360-degrees. The camera has a maximum aperture of f/7 at the wide end and f/10 at the telephoto end.

Image Credit: Jim Bell/ASU

For a sense of scale, NASA uploaded an image of the two sides of the Mastcam-Z camera next to a pocket knife:

Image credit: MSSS/ASU

The Mastcam-Z is in place for three primary reasons. First, Perseverance will use it to characterize the overall landscape geomorphology, processes, and the nature of the geologic record (mineralogy, texture, structure, and stratigraphy) at the rover field site. Second, it will assess current atmospheric and astronomical conditions and interactions between the surface and the atmosphere. Finally, it will provide operational support and scientific context for rover navigation and imaging support for the other instruments and tools.

This wind-carved rock seen in first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument shows just how much detail is captured by the camera systems. | Photo credot: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

You can peruse the results of the imaging technology throughout the Mars mission as NASA continues to upload images from Perseverance here.


Image credits: Header image by MSSS/ASU