NASA’s Curiosity Rover — Cameras and Photography

NASA’s Rover known as Curiosity which has been on Mars since August 6, 2012 is in serious search for clues to a past or even current presence of microbial life — i.e. alien lifeforms. After 6 prior attempts to safely land Rovers on Mars, Curiosity has taken the charm. It’s loaded with all sorts of investigative and navigational instruments of which include 17 cameras.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover with 17 ‘eyes’. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

It’s these cameras and images they produce that we’ll take a brief time to explore since we are focusing on photography. The seventeen cameras include:

 

8 — Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams)

With 2 pairs in the front and 2 pairs in the back, the Rover is able to avoid crashing into obstacles. These cameras are linked with the Rovers’ artificial intelligence so that it can make decisions to avoid obstacles during drives and the movement of the robotic arm. As for specs, the cameras have a field of view of 120 degrees, and can capture decent details up to about 3 meters. Images are only in black and white.

The image was captured by the rover’s front left Hazard-Avoidance camera at full resolution shortly after it landed. It has been linearized to remove the distorted appearance that results from its fisheye lens. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

4 — Navigation Cameras (NavCams)

Just as the HazCams, these NavCams produce images in black and white with a 45 degree field of view. They’re designed for a longer range of capturing images than that of Hazcams.

This image was taken by Navcam: Left A (NAV_LEFT_A) onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 54. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

2 — Mast Cameras (MastCams)

These cameras may interest photographers the most since they both shoot true-color images (1600×1200 pixels) with a frame rate of up to 10 frames per second, and are responsible for the epic images that are all over the media. The 34mm Medium Angle Camera (MAC) has a 15 degree angle of view, and the 100 mm Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) has a 5.1 degree angle of view. Each MastCam can store up to 8GB that can store over 5,500 RAW images. The MastCams can also take videos at 720p (1280×720).

This image is from a test series used to characterize the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA’s Curiosity rover. It was taken on Aug. 23, 2012, and looks south-southwest from the rover’s landing site. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This image is from a series of test images to calibrate the 34-millimeter Mast Camera on NASA’s Curiosity rover. It was taken on Aug. 23, 2012 and looks south-southwest from the rover’s landing site.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

1 — Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)

This camera is located on the Rover’s robotic arm that specially takes microscopic images of rock and soil. It has a 18.3 mm to 21.3 mm focal length and a 33.8- to 38.5-degree field of view. It’s able to take images in the dark using white and ultraviolet LED illumination in either RAW or JPEG format. Images it captures have a size of 1600×1200 pixels and a resolution of up to 14.5 micrometers per pixel.

First colored image from Curiosity taken with the MAHLI Camera. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

1 — Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)

It was essential during the landing exercise as there was only one chance for success. It has a 90 degree circular field of view and is able to capture images at a frame rate of 5 images per second. With 8 GB of memory it can store up to 4000 RAW images.

The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter) diameter heat shield when it was about 50 feet (16 meters) from the spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

1 — Chemistry and Complex Camera (ChemCam)

Probably the most sophisticated of them all, as it uses two instruments to analyze geology. The laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy LIBS uncovers the chemical compositions of rocks and soil by vaporizing material, and the Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope takes images using a wavelengths of light that are visible, UV and IR.

This image shows the first target NASA’s Curiosity rover will vaporize (at least partially) with its ChemCam. Image Credit: MSSS/JPL-Caltech/NASA/REUTERS

 

What about zoom lenses?

Malin the developers of the MastCams also developed zoom lenses, but they weren’t ready in time for testing for Curiosity’s launch on November 26, 2011.

 

A lot is expected from the Curiosity Mission

A great number of movies and documentaries have been produced with the theme of ‘Life on Mars’, typically with the ‘little green men’. These guys are not expected to be seen, but the more likely scenario is gathering evidence that Mars could, did or does harbor life. Let’s see!

For more images of this mission, you can visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

About Shane Brown-Daniels

I'm a freelance writer and event photographer who is always up for an adventure. From capturing the beauty of a woman, the strength of a man, onto the adrenaline-pumped action scene, you'll find me aiming for the shot.

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