Mars Stripped Of Its Color Around The Curiosity Rover Work Site In Perplexing New NASA Photo
An image in a recent update from NASA's Curiosity Rover mission has surprised the space agency's team of experts back here on Earth. According to NASA, the Curiosity Rover has not moved since experiencing transmission issues back in September – but the greyish, veiny rock in the image doesn't match the photo of the Red Planet worksite that was taken before the spacecraft began its break.
"It has been over a month since we last looked at the 'workspace,' the region in front of the rover that the arm can reach, and there were some surprises in store for us," wrote team member Melissa Rice in a blog post. "Before the anomaly, the rock was covered with gray-colored tailings from our failed attempt to drill the 'Inverness' target, as seen in the Mastcam image from sol 2170. In the new image...those tailings are now gone - and so is a lot of the dark brown soil and reddish dust." It's almost as if Rosie the Robot came by while Curiosity was asleep and dusted around it.
A more logical explanation, according to NASA, is that the winds on Mars over the past month are responsible for the clean patch in front of Curiosity's arm. The winds must not have been particularly strong, though, because if you look closely all of the small rocks from the first image are exactly where they were in the second image. Taking advantage of the maid service, Rice reports that more images will be taken using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) – specifically of the carvings in the now-exposed surface – once Curiosity returns to its science operations and restarts drilling.
CNN notes that a windy season is on the way for Mars, which could be good news if it blows enough dust off of Opportunity's solar panels so the rover can recharge and wake up. The $400 million Opportunity has been unresponsive since June, but NASA has not given up on it yet. If the landscape around Curiosity was swept this much in a month, we can only imagine how things will look from Opportunity's point of view if it is ever resurrected.