Trivia

Hard

What Subtle Message Does Mars Rover Curiosity’s Wheels Leave Behind?

(CES) Carl Edward Sagan
(RDB) Ray Douglas Bradbury
(NASA) National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(JPL) Jet Propulsion Lab
A close-up view of the Morse code tread on one of the Curiosity rover's wheels.
NASA

Answer: (JPL) Jet Propulsion Lab

When NASA’s Curiosity rover rolls quietly across the Martian plains, it leaves behind a very subtle calling card that points back to its birthplace tens of millions of miles away. Across the 14.27 miles (22.97 kilometers) of terrain it has slowly rolled over so far, taking samples and photographs along the way, it’s left tracks in the soil tracing its path back to the start of its journey at the Bradbury Landing site inside the Gale crater.

Most of the tread on the rover’s wheels is a simple but effective zig-zag (chevron) pattern designed to provide a long lasting tread with good purchasing power on the dry and loose Martian soil. The whole wheel doesn’t have the same tread, however, a small segment of each wheel tread is devoted to a series of cutouts. The pattern of the cutouts ” .— / .–. / .-.. ” spells out the initials of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory via Morse code—JPL. As the rover explores Mars, it imprints the letters in the soil, leaving a subtle nod to its birthplace wherever it goes.

While the markings might be part vanity project, they also serve a useful function. When the onboard cameras examine the tread pattern left by the wheels, the different pattern introduced by the Morse code offers a sense of scale researchers can use as a reference to show distance, even if the terrain in the photograph is featureless.

Trivia

Hard

Originally, Star Trek Writers Intended To Make Which Planet Spock’s Home World?

Trivia

Hard

The Design of Apple’s FireWire Cable Was Influenced By What Unlikely Source?

Trivia

Hard

The First Odometer Was Used In?

Trivia

Hard

In Ancient Warfare, Both The Greeks And Romans Fought Off War Elephants With?

Trivia

Very Hard

The Practice Of Firing A Purposefully Inaccurate Shot In A Pistol Duel Is Known As?

Trivia

Very Hard

The Highest Grossing James Bond Film, Adjusted For Inflation, Is?

Trivia

Very Hard

The Longest Tunnel In The World Is Located In?

Trivia

Hard

Early Forensic Experts Were Trained Using What?

Trivia

Easy

Which Of These Creatures Produces Light At Nearly 100% Efficiency?

Trivia

Hard

Which Game Console Was The First To Feature Built-In Ethernet?