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Curious “Photo-finish”: Sky Crane’s Demise Documented

Distance and direction of Sky Crane impact zone from Curiosity rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Note "blob" in center of image - believed to be plume from crashing Sky Crane. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After deploying the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, the Sky Crane performed its own aerial acrobatics – crashing in a planned maneuver far away from the rover’s landing zone.

Engineers have reviewed images taken by Curiosity’s Hazard-Avoidance cameras finding evidence for an impact plume created when the Sky Crane fell to the Martian surface.

One image shows a “blob” thought to be the Sky Crane’s impact plume; by the time another image – 45 minutes later — was taken, the blob had vanished.

More evidence: In an image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), it captured the relative positions between the Curiosity rover and the impact site of its Sky Crane.

This information was used to determine whether the rover was pointed in the right direction to have even snagged an image of the plume from the crash of the descent stage using is rear-facing Hazard-Avoidance cameras.

Indeed, the gyrocompass on Curiosity indicates that the rover is pointed at 112 degrees, which, after subtracting 180 degrees since the picture was taken from the rear, gives the same direction of the sky crane crash to within 12 degrees.

By Leonard David

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