Ceres and Vesta as Seen From the Curiosity Rover on Mars

On Thursday, JPL published the above photo with graphic, which depicts the first time the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, or any asteroid for that matter, have been photographed from the surface of the Red Planet. There is an interesting lesson in perspective here, as the release gives a brief mention of the NASA’s truly remarkable Dawn mission, and then goes on to talk about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, as well as the role SLS and Orion are supposed to play. The latter is becoming an almost reflexive part of way too many NASA news releases which are ostensibly about another subject entirely.

From an exploration and settlement perspective, what might have merited a bit more attention is the extent to which to the photo highlights just how accessible other resources become once you are already in the vicinity of Mars. The minor planet Ceres in particular appears to be a world almost entire comprised of water ice.  In other words, a great big fuel depot almost begging us to stop by and top off the tanks on the way to the outer planets.

Here is the full press release:

April 24, 2014
A new image from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is the first ever from the surface of Mars to show an asteroid, and it shows two: Ceres and Vesta.

These two — the largest and third-largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter — are the destinations of NASA’s Dawn mission. Dawn orbited Vesta in 2011 and 2012, and is on its way to begin orbiting Ceres next year. Ceres is a dwarf planet, as well as an asteroid.

Ceres and Vesta appear as short, faint streaks in a 12-second exposure taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on April 20, 2014, PDT (April 21, UTC). An annotated version of the image, also including insets from other observations the same night, is online at:

“This imaging was part of an experiment checking the opacity of the atmosphere at night in Curiosity’s location on Mars, where water-ice clouds and hazes develop during this season,” said camera team member Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station. “The two Martian moons were the main targets that night, but we chose a time when one of the moons was near Ceres and Vesta in the sky.”

Ceres and Vesta are much larger and farther from Earth’s orbit than the types of near-Earth asteroids under consideration for NASA’s asteroid initiative. That initiative includes two separate, but related activities: the asteroid redirect mission and the grand challenge. NASA is currently developing concepts for the redirect mission that will employ a robotic spacecraft, driven by an advanced solar electric propulsion system, to capture a small near-Earth asteroid or remove a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid. The spacecraft then will attempt to redirect the object into a stable orbit around the moon.

Astronauts will travel aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft, launched on the Space Launch System rocket, to rendezvous in lunar orbit with the captured asteroid. Once there, they will collect samples to return to Earth for study.
The grand challenge is a search for the best ideas for finding asteroids that pose a potential threat to human populations, and to accelerate the work NASA already is doing for planetary defense.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates the rover’s Mastcam.

More information about the Dawn mission is available at these websites: http://www.nasa.gov/dawn http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov .

For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ . You can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity .



Posted in: Asteroids, Mars

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