The Curiosity rover track

With the recent attempted landing on Mars we thought it might be a good time to discuss another Mars inhabitant, NASA’s Curiosity rover.

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.

About Timothy Whitehead

Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.






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Comments

  1. Fernando Nogal says:

    As Timothy mentions, I (Fernando Nogal) have been maintaining a KML file with Curiosity’s track. The first post (here: http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=7442&view=findpost&p=211713) has a pointer to the more recente version, which I keep up to date.

    The GE path for MSL is misaligned, I do not know why. The track at curiosityrover.com has also been misaligned since sol 990, aproximately, again I do not know why. The data I use to create the track comes from NASA’s Planetary Data System (see the kml file description) and, in its absence,visual matching. Which track is correct can easily be confirmed, for instance, by looking in the MSL Analyst’s Notebook or, more easily, by comparing the path with the JPL provided maps at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/mission/whereistherovernow/

    ​My file has many features which can be indivisually toggled on or off, including the complete track since landing. Please make sure ​you have the right imagery enabled in GE Primary Database-> Mars Gallery -> Rovers and Landers ->MSL Curiosity Rover (USA) -> Gale crater landing site -> HiRISE/CTX Overlay Maps (see http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=7442&st=675&p=225808&#entry225808). The track should be visible, even without disabling the GE one​, however, due to the color, it might not be very visible from a great altitude, but the sol symbols still are. By the way, click on a sol symbol to see the details for the sol, the ones marked with a star also have photos.

  2. I suspect that early maps of Mars showed south at the top because that’s what you see when you look through a telescope: an inverted image.

    Additional mirrors can be added to the light path to flip the image right-side-up (leaving the image inverted left-to-right) but there’s really no reason to use one when looking at space objects.



PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.