GEB reader Fernando Nogal let us know about a KML file he maintains which tracks the path of Curiosity on Mars. It can be found in this thread on unmannedspaceflight.com.
Google Mars has a built-in layer showing the locations of various landers and rovers on Mars, including Curiosity and its track. However, the track displayed for Curiosity does not match up with Fernando’s version. A look at the terrain in the imagery shows that Fernando’s version is the more accurate one, as you can clearly see that Curiosity followed certain terrain features to avoid driving over obstacles. This is with the “Rovers and Landers” layer turned on, which includes some HiRISE/CTX imagery. With it turned off, the default Google Mars imagery appears to be out of alignment with both tracks.
We have not been able to identify the source of the Google Mars track, but while trying to find out more about it, we discovered this map which shows yet another version of the track, which is ever further out of alignment.
So what is going on? Our guess is that this is because Mars does not have a GPS system in place and the less accurate tracks are being determined by dead reckoning using Curiosity’s data about the directions and distances it drives whereas Fernando’s track is based on identifying features in the imagery the rover sends back.
If any of our readers knows more about this or where the Google Mars track is sourced from, please let us know in the comments.
Regarding yesterday’s landing attempt, as of this writing it appears that the orbiter managed a successful orbit insertion but the lander’s status is uncertain.
We also came across this interesting article about historical maps of Mars and how our knowledge of the red planet has improved over time. A number of the historical maps can be found in the layer “Mars Gallery->Historic Maps”. It is interesting that older maps had South at the top. Google Earth has a similar layer called “Rumsey Historical Maps” found in the “Gallery” layer that features historical maps of Earth.