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A Martian Stares Back

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Peekabo! Mastcam seen by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity's arm (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

There is nothing particularly scientific about this image, but it is remarkably evocative. The Curiosity rover on Mars took a self-portrait of its primary camera masthead using another camera (the rather charmingly named “Mars Hand Lens Imager” or MAHLI)  mounted on its robotic arm on Sept 7th 2012. In part the image was made to test the functioning of a transparent dust cover on MAHLI, and this cover is in place here – creating a rather artistic fogginess to the image.

Picture of the MAHLI camera on Curiosity's arm, taken by Mastcam (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

It was only polite for the main Mastcam on Curiosity to take a picture of MAHLI as well, which it actually did the day before. To quote from the Mars Science Laboratory website “The reddish circle near the center of the Mastcam Sol 30 image is the window of MAHLI’s dust cover, with a diameter a little less than a soda can’s diameter. Inside the lens, each of the nine glass lens elements and the front sapphire window are bonded or cemented in place by a red-colored silicone RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) material. This is a space-qualified “glue” that holds the lens elements in place. When the MAHLI is viewed from certain angles, this material gives one the impression that the inside of the lens is red.”

So there you have it – a multi-eyed, recent martian immigrant, staring back at itself.

Caleb A. Scharf About the Author: Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His books include Gravity's Engines (2012) and The Copernicus Complex (2014) (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. JohnLNJ 11:16 am 09/9/2012

    It is truly a great picture. The effect of seeing the hardware close up against the Martian background is truly spectacular. Makes you think of the illustrations used on the “Martian Chronicles” and the cover of old science fiction magazines.

    Any comment about all the apparent exposed wiring?

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  2. 2. Glendon Mellow 7:04 pm 09/9/2012

    This whole post has me grinning from ear to ear. Love Curiosity.

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