Mars: the Dusty Planet

Mars is not just the red planet, but it is also the dusty planet. In the years Curiosity has been exploring the planet, she has built up a coating of dust so thick first sign of alien life may be one writing "WASH ME" on her.

The Spirit and Opportunity Martian rovers relied on their solar panels to provide them with the energy to explore the red planet, but sometimes those panels get a wee bit dusty. While they got power-boosts from helpful dust-devils, the newer Curiosity abandoned the dependence on luck and went with a nuclear battery that turns heat into electricity instead. Good thing, too, as Curiosity has gotten very, very dusty!

Illustration for article titled Mars: the Dusty Planet

Curiosity started off shiny-clean on the first few months on Mars, as demonstrated in this self portrait from sols 84.

Illustration for article titled Mars: the Dusty Planet

Many months later on sols 613, Curiosity was coated in a thick layer of dust.

Image processing by Thomas Appéré, who also constructed an animation flipping between the sols. Have you considered what goes on behind the scenes every time a rover takes a self-portrait?



Curiosity doesn't rely on solar panels. It relies on a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) that you can see in the back. It uses the thermal energy from the natural decay of plutonium dioxide. Electricity comes from thermocouples, and the heat also keeps the electronic systems from freezing during cold nights.