Yesterday we saw one of the most spectacular space photographs ever taken: A view of Curiosity and its supersonic parachute descending through the Martian atmosphere. That's right: NASA not only put a robot on Mars but also took a picture of the thing as it was landing.
The photo was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and unveiled by Sarah Milkovich, investigation scientist with MRO's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. Today Milkovich unveiled another fascinating HiRISE photo, showing what she called the "crime scene" of the landing site.
The new photo [above, click on it for full resolution], taken 10:30 pm last night Pacific Time, shows Curiosity's location plus scattered hardware parts: the sky crane, back shell and parachute, and heat shield. The dark streaks on either side of Curiosity are where dust was removed by the sky crane thrusters, Milkovich said at a press conference at JPL. The heat shield is about 1,200 meters from where Curiosity landed. The back shell is about 615 meters, and the sky crane 650 meters.
The picture also shows intriguing geological patterns on the surface. There are three distinct areas that converge at the center of the image. Milkovich and other scientists at the press even declined to speculate on the nature of the different formations. But Ken Edgett, a scientist responsible for one of the rover's cameras, joked that if it were up to him, he would drive "to where those three [areas] come together."