Selfie on Mars: Nasa Curiosity rover’s space jam

Combines 57 images taken by Mars Hand Lens Imager

The latest self-portrait from Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the car-size mobile laboratory beside a dark dune where it has been scooping and sieving samples of sand.

The new selfie combines 57 images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of Curiosity's arm on January 19.

The rover has been investigating a group of active sand dunes for two months, studying how the wind moves and sorts sand particles on Mars. The site is part of Bagnold Dune Field, which lines the northwestern flank of Mars' Mount Sharp.

When the component images were taken, the rover had scuffed the edge of ‘Namib Dune’ and collected the first of three scoops of sand from that dune.

It used its scoop later to collect a second sample on January 19, and a third on January 22.

During processing of the third sample, an actuator in the sample-processing device did not perform as expected when commanded. This week, the Curiosity team is identifying possible reasons for the actuator's performance.

The processing device on the arm is named CHIMRA, for Collection and Handling for In-situ Martian Rock Analysis.

The component that was commanded to open, but did not, is called the CHIMRA tunnel.

It is opened by using the thwack actuator, a motorized component that also can deliver a firm tap to help clean sample material from a nearby sieve. Part of the third scooped sample is inside the CHIMRA tunnel after passing through a sieve.

If the tunnel had opened via the thwack actuator as planned, the next step would have been to take an image of the sand inside it.  

Researchers are evaluating possible sites for the next use of Curosity's drill to collect rock-powder samples of the bedrock in the area.

Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after fruitfully investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the layered mountain. On the lower portion of the mountain, the mission is studying how Mars' ancient environment changed from wet conditions favorable for microbial life to harsher, drier conditions.

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