The Moment When Curiosity Breached a Mars Dune
At 12:55 p.m. EST on Feb. 4, Curiosity's front-left wheel pushed through the sand at the crest of the dune in Dingo Gap.
A selection of a panorama photographed by Curiosity on Jan. 28 (sol 526 of the mission) of "Dingo Gap" -- a 1 meter-high dune bridging the gap between two craggy scarps, an obstacle on a potential driving route for the rover.
On Tuesday at precisely 12:55 p.m. EST (17:55 UTC), Mars rover Curiosity successfully breached the crest of the dune in “Dingo Gap.” The 1 meter-high dune stands between the rover and a smoother route to the mission’s next science target.
The raw image above comes from Curiosity’s front-left Hazard Avoidance Camera (or Hazcam for short) on sol 533 (Feb. 4) of the mission, providing a snapshot of the moment when the rover’s front left wheel reached the peak of the dune. Although there has yet to be official word from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists, Curiosity appears to have conquered the upward slope of the Dingo Gap dune with ease. The timestamps on the raw imagery suggests the short drive up the sandy slope took around 25 minutes.
I’ve stitched together a rough animated gif of the dune drive below:
NASA/JPL-Caltech, animation by Ian O'Neill/Discovery News
During Curiosity’s careful approach, the incline of the dune was very clear in a raw photo from the rover’s mast-mounted navigation camera:
During ascent, Curiosity snapped this shot of the surrounding terrain, a view that demonstrates the upward slope of the dune.NASA/JPL-Caltech
In the run-up to the “dune jump”, mission scientists were cautious to test out the sandy composition of the dune before committing the rover. Evidently, these preliminary observations proved that the dune is structurally sound and could support Curiosity’s six wheels.
Curiosity appears to have some to rest at the dune’s peak, probably admiring the view and assessing the drive down the dune’s slope and out of Dingo Gap. Hopefully the road ahead provides some smooth driving for the rover’s battered aluminum wheels.
Using its navigation camera, Curiosity looks down at its front-right wheel just after the rover reached the peak of the dune on Tuesday.NASA/JPL-Caltech
Image source: JPL