Mars, you are looking mighty funky. NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped a series of close-up images of the Red Planet that show some fascinating nodules, lumps and bumps on the surface.
The images, taken over the last few days by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), look both alien and familiar. The pictures show a collection of rounded nodules that bearseen by the rover late in 2019 at a nearby location.
MAHLI’s ability to zoom in on the Martian landscape lets scientists study details of minerals and formations on the planet’s surface. NASA calls it “the rover’s version of the magnifying hand lens that geologists usually carry with them into the field.”
What makes these images more impressive is that the rover has been doing its work while perched at a sharp angle. NASA planetary geologist Abigail Fraeman shared the news of Curiosity’s mission-record-setting 26.9-degree tilt in an update on Monday.
While the rover can conceivably withstand a tilt of 45 degrees without falling over, the vehicle’s safety system is programmed to avoid going beyond 30 degrees, according to NASA.
Curiosity’s tantalizing tilt is a triumph for the rover, but it doesn’t best the 32-degree tilt achieved by the now-defunct Opportunity rover in 2016.
Curiosity’s current worksite has been eye-opening. Planetary geologist Michelle Minitti described it as “a riot of shapes, colors and textures” in an update last week. The team is now on the lookout for a good spot to drill as the rover delves deeper into the geology and chemistry of its home in Gale Crater.