Curiosity has seventeen “eyes” that help it to perform its duties. Six cameras help Curiosity navigate around the Gale crater and four cameras perform experiments. The rover has four pairs of Hazcams or Hazard Avoidance Cameras that it uses to keep from getting lost or crashing into obstacles. Each of these cameras have a wide field of vision (120 degrees) and they can map the terrain as far as three meters in front of the rover. The Hazcam cameras are mounted directly to the rover’s body and do not move.
Mounted on the mast, the rover’s head and neck, are two pairs of Navigation Cameras (Navcams). These black and white cameras use visible light to take panoramic 3D images. Each has a 45 degree field of view that scientists and engineers can use for ground navigation. They also work in conjunction with the Hazcams.
A pair of Mastcams takes color, 3D pictures as well as color video footage. They also have powerful zoom lenses. These cameras work much like human eyes by combining side by side images taken from slightly different positions, which gives it the feature of depth perception.
The Chemcam, also mounted on the mast, works in conjunction with a powerful laser and spectrograph to analyze or “taste” the composition of rocks and soil. The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is similar to a geologist’s hand lens and provides close ups of minerals, textures and structures in rocks and rocky debris and dust smaller than the diameter of human hair.
Mounted underneath Curiosity is the MARDI camera. The Mars Descent Imager began taking four frames per second video as soon as the rover jettisoned the heat shield until it was gently lowered to the surface. The imager provided information about the geology surrounding the landing site which will provide the exact location of the rover on Mars. You can view the video of the descent as taken by the MARDI camera at the Mars Science Laboratory website.
Next time: Looking at Curiosity’s Arm and Hand
“The greatest virtue of man is perhaps curiosity.” – Anatole France