Martian dust on a 104-year-old penny: Mars rover Curiosity beams back stunning images of Red Planet

  • The rover Curiosity has been on Mars since August of 2012
  • The penny is an homage to geologists' tradition of using an object to scale specimens
  • The teams of scientists who run the Curiosity mission around the clock were not impacted by the government shutdown

By Daily Mail Reporter

|

Martian dust covering a more than century-old penny: that's just one of dozens of stunning images captured by the Mars rover Curiosity and beamed back to Earth since it first landed on the Red Planet in August of 2012.

The presence of a penny on a $1.8 billion piece of galactic machinery might seem strange. But it's actually tradition - the penny on Curiosity is a nod to the geologists' tradition of placing a coin or other object of reference next to a specimen in order to scale its size.

The incredibly high-resolution photo was taken by the rover's MAHLI camera at a distance of five centimeters. MAHLI can acquire images of even higher resolution and can be positioned as close as 2.5 centimeters. However, because the photo of the penny was the first photo taken by the camera on Mars, NASA opted to not place it at its highest focus for the test run.

A penny goes a long way: This 1909 penny currently is on the surface of Mars as part of the Curiosity mission

A penny goes a long way: This 1909 penny currently is on the surface of Mars as part of the Curiosity mission

Curiosity: The rover Curiosity is the fourth unmanned rover sent to Mars since 1996. It landed on the Red Planet in August 2012

Curiosity: The rover Curiosity is the fourth unmanned rover sent to Mars since 1996. It landed on the Red Planet in August 2012

The dust covering the penny is not surprising - it was facing directly into a plume of dust stirred up by the rover's engines during its descent onto the surface of Mars on August 6, 2012.

The specific penny used for Curiosity's homage to geological tradition also is by design.

 

The penny on the rover is a 1909 'VDB' penny - VDB being the initials of Victor David Brenner, the man who designed the Lincoln penny at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt to commemorate Lincoln's 100th birthday.

Samples: The rover comes equipped with a drill that it uses to dig up soil samples and analyze them

Samples: The rover comes equipped with a drill that it uses to dig up soil samples and analyze them

Rough terrain: The rover is designed to be able to maneuver through Mars' rocky, treacherous terrain

Rough terrain: The rover is designed to be able to maneuver through Mars' rocky, treacherous terrain

The penny was first released into circulation in 1909.

Other images taken by the rover show the rough terrain of Mars and its dry, rocky surface. 

Curiosity requires teams working around the clock to keep the bot up and running. There were concerns that with the current government shutdown, the teams of scientists monitoring the rover would be furloughed like other federal employes, leaving the fate of the rover in question.

However, Curiosity appears to have received a pass - a spokesperson for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the rover's mission control is located, tells Mashable that 'Curiosity is doing what Curiosity does - she's roving, taking some images of Mars, still sending those back...right now, things continue on as normal.'

 





No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now