Curious darkening of the soil at the landing site of the rover

Curious darkening of the soil at the landing site of the rover

This series of shots shows an explosion zone at the point where the sky crane separated from the Curiosity rover, which is operated by NASA. The device landed on the surface of Mars in August 2012, the pictures show the dynamics of soil changes over 30 months after planting.

When NASA's Curiosity rover got inside Gale Crater in August 2012, it did it in a very spectacular way. At the final stages of his courageous descent, the rocket engine of the landing platform of the rover, known as the sky crane, “caught fire”, crashing into the dusty surface, raising clouds of dark dust and separated from the rover at a safe distance.

Months and years after the Mars rover landed, the high-resolution experimental camera (HiRISE), mounted aboard the Mars orbital aircraft controlled by NASA, tracks changes around the Curiosity landing zone (called “Bradbury landing”) behind the crash point of the sky crane and parachute shells that slowed the entrance of the rover into the atmosphere of Mars.

After the red regolith of the Martian surface has been loosened, over time, it is expected that it will burn out, slowly returning to its natural state. But recent images from HiRISE, which depict the four steps of Curiosity, show that the soil burned slightly and, perhaps, this fact can help to reveal previously unknown facts about the soil dynamics of the Martian surface. “Spacecraft such as Curiosity create a dark explosion zone into which light dust is blown off when landing,” says Igrid Doubar, a scientist at the NASA jet engine laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We expected that these landing tracks would eventually become lighter due to the wind that moves dust, but years and months passed and we are surprised that the level of ground change is completely insignificant.”

Such observations are also part of the next NASA mission on Mars called InSight, which will be launched in 2016. The InSight will be able to deploy a probe that can take samples from a depth of several meters to measure the penetration of heat through the crust of the planet.

Any darkening of the soil must be studied in order to understand the reasons for this process. The darker the surface, the more solar energy can absorb the surface.

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