Curiosity Takes Its First Night Photographs of Mars

Scientists are looking for fluorescent minerals on Mars

By Lucian Parfeni on January 24th, 2013 16:53 GMT

One of the reasons why Curiosity can be so large and operate so many instruments is that it doesn't rely on solar power like the rovers that came before it. Because it has a nuclear power source built in, it can operate when it's all dusty, when the sun isn't that high up or even at night.

Still, so far, Curiosity spent its nights sleeping, but a couple of days ago it took a couple of night shots – the first, using its MAHLI camera aided by its white and ultraviolet lights.

“Scientists used the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument for a close-up nighttime look at a rock target called ‘Sayunei,’ in an area where Curiosity's front-left wheel had scuffed the rock to provide fresh, dust-free materials to examine,” NASA explained.

Since the images were only shot a couple of days ago, scientists haven’t gotten around to analyzing them just yet. One of the reasons for the night shot was to determine whether there were fluorescent minerals around.

The images didn't reveal any obvious signs of fluorescence, but scientists aren't ruling it out until they will have had a better look at the data.

“These data just arrived this morning. The science team is still assessing the observations. If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that'd be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence,” Ken Edgett, MAHLI principal investigator, said.

The first images were of MAHLI's calibration target, a small patch on the rover with known patterns, colors and a penny. This, as the name suggests, is used to calibrate the camera so the actual images it shoots can be better understood.

Curiosity is getting ready to use its drill for the first time, but it is still scouting its immediate surrounding area, looking for the best rock to target.
A rock on Mars at night, using visible light
4 photos
   A rock on Mars at night, using visible light

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