Curiosity Rover: Looking Back on the Two Years of Wear and Tear Inflicted By Mars

Can you believe that it has been two years since the Curiosity Rover made international headlines, following its journey through the aptly named ‘seven minutes of terror’, by landing on the Red Planet? Neither can we, but it has just had its second anniversary on Mars.

Since its initial arrival, it has given us unprecedented insight into the most intimate secrets of the Red Planet, but of course, this hasn’t been without its challenges. And any number of these challenges could signal the end of Curiosity’s mission (which was originally slated to end in 2014). Now, it has been extended indefinitely, opening up the possibility that it will still be in action when the next Mars rover touches down in 2021. The following images show how the Martian terrain has impacted our little rover.

This first section is certainly the most-well known part of Curiosity—its “eyes”—where the very first extraterrestrial selfies were taken. Both images are composites, stitched together using various other images taken by Curiosity’s  MAHLI imager (short for Mars Hand Lens Imager), which is located on the turret at the end of the its robotic arms. Because of its up-top location, this section doesn’t exhibit nearly as much wear and tear as the other sections. So no need to fret. Curiosity will continue taking selfies until the very end (alien invasion not withstanding).

*Note: Slide the arrow left or right to see the full before and after images.

These images show a segment of Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (also known as APXS for short), taken using Curiosity’s Mast Camera. This tool is used in conjunction with the ChemCam, allowing scientists to derive the elemental composition of noteworthy objects found within the vicinity of the rover (mostly things that don’t blend in with the rocky terrain).

The image on the left was taken using the Rover’s Mastcam: Left on August 8th of 2012. It’s no secret that a few of Curiosity’s 6 wheels have encountered one issue after the other, but here, you can just see how much traversing the rocky terrain has worn down one specific wheel.

Both of these images were also captured using Curiosity’s on-board MAHLI imager, with the image on the left snapped on September 12, 2012. The newer one was taken on March 3, 2014.

The following images help drive home just how much of a beating the wheels have taken. The older image was taken on October 6, 2012, while the latter was captured on August 8th of 2014. As we previously reported, over the past year or so, scientists have discovered puncture holes within the aluminum wheels, created by caprocks. Per the original article,  “A caprock is a particularly hard rock that is more resistant to weathering. They tend to be sharp and hard, and they can puncture Curiosity’s aluminum wheels when the rover crosses over them.”

These so-called caprocks will continue to wreak havoc as Curiosity’s voyage continues, but JPL insists that they are taking necessary measures to ensure the problematic rock shards do not put the rover’s future in jeopardy. They hope to avoid them entirely.

Before the Curiosity rover  — the most sophisticated robot ever sent to explore another world — left Earth’s atmosphere, scientists added a few knick knacks with a personal touch. This copper penny is one of them, but it also has a scientific purpose; it’s used to help calibrate Curiosity’s  MAHLI imager. Given how detailed the penny is, it’s clear that the imager is incredibly sophisticated (especially where rovers are concerned)

According to NASA, “At 14 micrometers per pixel, this is the highest resolution image that the MAHLI can acquire.” The first image was taken shortly after Curiosity reached Mars, while the second, newer image was taken on Oct. 2, 2013. 

Similar to the copper penny, this strange, joy-stick like feature, called the  MarsDial, is a sundial used to calibrate Curiosity’s onboard cameras. To be more specific, the sundial helps Earth-based observers determine the true color of objects imaged by the rovers.

As an interesting side-note, both the Opportunity and Spirit rovers also have a similar feature, both inscribed with “Two worlds, One sun” and the word “Mars” in 22 different languages. Instead of harboring the same sentiment, Curiosity’s is inscribed with “Mars 2012″ and “To Mars To Explore”.

You know what they say, takes a licking, keeps on ticking. Keep it up, little rover!


(You can pick through more of the raw images here). Hat tip to the Verge for the article idea (and for introducing us to the cool ‘before and after’ plugin)

Jaime Trosper

About Jaime Trosper

Jaime is a freelance writer, who finds great joy in sharing the wonders of universe with others. She used this passion to launch "From Quarks to Quasars" in 2012.

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