Curiosity says: Be True to Your School

Seth Jarvis

Time for a bit of fun trivia.

The Curiosity rover is still going through its various to-do lists to make sure that when the time comes for it to leave its landing spot and begin exploring Gale Crater it knows everything is working, where it is going, and what to do.

Yesterday, I posted about the “appetizers” that Curiosity is sending to us.

In that post, you’ll see a close-up image that shows where the landing vehicle’s rocket blast scoured the Martian surface just a bit.

I now direct your attention to the bit of the Curiosity rover itself that’s visible in that image.  Specifically, the wheel showing in the lower right corner of that image.  Here it is:

One of Curiosity's 20-inch diameter wheels. Notice anything odd in the tread pattern?


All six of Curiosity’s wheels have that pattern on their treads.  As Curiosity begins to roll across Mars, engineers on Earth will look at the tread pattern in the Martian soil and use the way the tread pattern appears to calibrate the distance measuring capabilities of the rover’s cameras.

The tread pattern that Curiosity will leave on Mars will look like this:

Dot Dash Dash Dash

Dot Dash Dash

Dot Dash Dot Dot


It is visually unique and easily recognizable – no chance of misinterpreting which tread line is which in the soil – something that will be important to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers performing those camera calibrations.

It’s also Morse Code.  Curiosity’s wheels will spell out on Mars, over and over and over again for the next several years…




Scientifically valuable, an engineering necessity, and exactly the right dose of geeky humor.  It’s wonderful.

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