Curiosity takes first nighttime and ‘black light’ photos

Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) "glows" in the UV images. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Rock illuminated at night using the UV LEDs. The bright material (gypsum?) “glows” in the UV images. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Addendum: press release is now available here.

The images being taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars have been amazing enough so far, but with one thing in common – they are all daytime images. Now, though, Curiosity has taken its first nighttime photos! These initial images were taken a couple of days ago, on sol 165. This is also the location where Curiosity will soon do its first drilling.

The same rock as in the first image, illuminated by the white LEDs. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
The same rock as in the first image, illuminated by the white LEDs. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
Image of the night sky. Noise in this still-unprocessed image makes it difficult to see how many stars are actually visible. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.
Image of the night sky. Noise in this still-unprocessed image makes it difficult to see how many stars are actually visible. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

The rover has two white LEDs to illuminate a target to be photographed at night, like using a flashlight. There are also two UV LEDs, to illuminate a target in ultraviolet light, similar to a common “black light.” Both sets of LEDs are located on the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The UV LEDs can look for flourescent minerals or other materials.

The rover also took nighttime photos of the sky, but as of yet there is still a lot of “noise” in these as-yet unprocessed images, making it difficult to tell exactly what are stars and what is just noise.

There should be a lot more images like these later on, as Curiosity becomes a nighttime photographer and astronomer. How cool is that?

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He started his blog The Meridiani Journal in 2005, which is a chronicle of planetary exploration. He also publishes The Exoplanet Report e-paper. In 2011, he started writing about space on a freelance basis, and now also currently write for AmericaSpace and Examiner.com. He has also written for Universe Today and SpaceFlight Insider, has been published in The Mars Quarterly and has done supplementary writing for the well-known iOS app Exoplanet for iPhone and iPad.

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