Morse Road

[Image: Curiosity's tire treads, courtesy of NASA and the nation's taxpayers].

It turns out that Bradbury Landing is also a kind of literary site, an interplanetary Newspaper Rock: the tracks left behind by the Curiosity rover are actually a form of Morse code.

The tire treads—wheeled hieroglyphs—spell out JPL, for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here on earth.

[Image: Curiosity reveals its Morse code, courtesy of NASA].

From a JPL press release: "Careful inspection of the tracks reveals a unique, repeating pattern, which the rover can use as a visual reference to drive more accurately in barren terrain. The pattern is Morse code for JPL, the abbreviation for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where the rover was designed and built, and the mission is managed."

This trackable terrain augmentation is a clever form of so-called visual odometry: "The purpose of the pattern is to create features in the terrain that can be used to visually measure the precise distance between drives," such that the visual appearance of the inscribed code will reveal signs of slippage and, thus, a need to re-chart or correct the rover's navigation. This will be especially useful on "featureless terrain."

[Image: Curiosity's tire treads, courtesy of NASA].

The example NASA uses is a picket fence:
"Imagine standing in front of a picket fence, and then closing your eyes and shifting to the side. When you open your eyes, you wouldn't be able to tell how many pickets you passed. If you had one picket that was a different shape though, you could always use that picket as your reference," said [Matt Heverly, lead rover driver at JPL]. "With Curiosity, it's a similar problem in featureless terrain like sand dunes. The hole pattern in the wheels gives us one 'big picket' to look at."
In other words, somewhere on the surface of Mars, codes from Earth—a new Linear A—will slowly drift apart over the years, becoming an unreadable road in the sand.

(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for the tip).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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August 30, 2012 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was reading about the history of shoes the other day for an activity. I read that Romans would have the faces of those that they wish to conquer engraved in the soles of their sandals so that when they walk in on the dirt and impression would be left of their faces and that each step would be a symbolic act of crushing their enemies under their feet. Others, in other geographical locations, had the faces of those they loved carved into the soles of their sandals so that when they walked they left in image of the one they loved on the earth each time they took a step. Somehow, the coded tracks left behind in Mars belong in this lineage of markings.

September 09, 2012 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This little bit of information gave me a new appreciation for the mundane genius that exists all around us. It is too much and I like it.

September 10, 2012 4:28 PM  

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