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Even after Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory have sojournied on Mars for over a year, NASA and the team at JPL are still deploying new capabilities for the robust robot scientist. This time, as reported by USA Today, the capability is autonomous navigation. Using less sophisticated software and imaging, NASA has built a lesser autonomous navigation capacity on a previous Mars rover, Opportunity. It's never been a secret that Autrnav would be deployed for Curiosity at some point. That point has been reached:

Mark Maimone, a rover mobility engineer and one of its navigators at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained how Curiosity did it without a backseat driver:

"Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain. The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one."

If you want to see something else really cool from Curiosity, come out into the tall grass.  

I'm not sure if this has scientific value. But I love this image of the larger of the two Martian moons, Phobos, partially eclipsing the Sun as the Martian space rock transits across the Solar disk moving from the lower left to the upper right.

When I saw this image, I was reminded of something that has always struck me as odd. When our Moon eclipses the Sun, the apparent diameter of the two bodies is almost exactly the same. That's how human observers first discovered the Sun's corona. This series of images from Curiosity on Mars reminds me that the Moon could be closer and/or larger, more completely obscuring both the Sun and its corona in an eclipse, or farther and/or smaller, only partially eclipsing as on Mars. Various combinations of closer, farther, larger, smaller, exist in abundance. To have these two celestial bodies appear with almost exactly the same apparent diameter, strikes me as an extraordinary coincidence.

For all things Mars on Daily Kos, and all my On Mars diaries, click on Kossacks on Mars.

Originally posted to Kossacks on Mars on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 05:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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