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Monday, January 29, 2018

Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System Blog Tour (guest post + giveaway)

Welcome to Day #2 of Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System Blog Tour!

To celebrate the release of Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System by Dr. Bethany Ehlmann with Jennifer Swanson on January 30th, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content from Bethany and National Geographic Kids Books Senior Editor Shelby Alinsky, plus 5 chances to win a copy of Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System!

Day in the Life of the Curiosity Rover on Mars
by Dr. Bethany Ehlmann

In our book, Dr. E has a robotic sidekick, Rover, who helps Dr. E. operate her spaceship to jet around the solar system, analyzing samples, beeping questions, and generally stealing the show with the cutest side comics of planetary exploration adventures.

In real life as Dr. Bethany Ehlmann, planetary geologist, I have the privilege of serving on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team. My role as a scientist is to help direct the exploration: which way to drive, which rocks to look at up close, and which rocks to drill. Curiosity’s day on Mars is not quite that of Rover in the book, so let’s talk about a day in the life of an actual rover on Mars.

At about 7am, Curiosity is asleep but the sun has brightened the sky and is peeking up over the 5-km tall Mt. Sharp in the center of Gale crater. Having already driven about 18 kilometers, crossing a field of sand dunes, Curiosity is presently working on ascending Mt. Sharp (as of this writing, she is at an elevation of 300 m above the crater floor).

But though the sun’s up, Curiosity has still more sleep. The rover’s awake time is usually after 9:30am. This is not because it’s a lazy Saturday morning on Mars. It’s because the temperature at sunrise is about -80 °C. Brrrr! The reason Curiosity stays put is an engineering one: to move her joints, Curiosity has to heat every single one of them. And it’s just not an efficient use of the rover’s energy resources for the day. So we patiently wait as the sun warms the air to reach a still-not-so-balmy -30°C to get moving.

Curiosity wakes up with Earth in control. This means Curiosity immediately turns its antenna to receive a packet of computer commands sent from the science and engineering team, who worked over the Mars night to put the plan together. After the plan is received, Curiosity independently executes the entire sequence of the day, laid out line by line in computer code.

There are usually about 10 minutes of engineering activities—data storage checks, reports of hardware status, deletes of data and old sequences—to start the day. This so-called “housekeeping” is kind of like waking up, getting out of your pajamas, brushing your teeth…all those little activities that get you ready to really live the day.

So what does a day hold for Curiosity? Well, it depends. Here’s an example: Curiosity might wake up, turn on her weather station to download and store the data collected overnight, all the while heating her arm joints and cooling the ChemCam instrument. Then Curiosity measures some interesting veins and fractures in the rock 2-7 m in front of her using the ChemCam laser. Her cyclops eye turns to take an image, focus the laser, and zap!, zap-zap!, thirty times, vaporizing the rock and measuring emitted light from plasma. Often we repeat the same 30-shot sequence at 5-20 spots on a rock to understand what the rock is made of in different places.

At 10:30am, Curiosity stretches out her warmed-up arm, moving the turret head in rover tai chi to maneuver its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer into place over a different section of rock. APXS acquires very detailed chemistry using x-rays generated by the instrument. After 30 minutes of x-ray collection, the tai chi begins again to switch the turret to deploy the microscopic imager. First from afar (25 cm from the ground) then closer and closer until the imager is only 1-2 cm above the surface, the rover gets better and better pictures of the rock. Try this with your smart phone of the next cool rock you see….but it won’t be as good as Curiosity’s microimages.

Having done that morning science workout, it’s now high noon and time for Curiosity to hit the road. Curiosity tucks her arm and turret back into her body and slowly rolls toward the x,y,z point on Mars designated by the team on Earth. This is most definitely not a sprint. Curiosity usually travels about 50 m in about 2 hours. By comparison, Usain Bolt crosses that same distance in about 5 seconds while sprinting, and you might walk it in a minute. Curiosity is the ultimate tortoise, proceeding in low gear at low speed to give her enough torque to overcome any obstacle and doing onboard image processing to check for obstacles (pointy rocks, sandy hollows) and safely avoid them. There is no roadside service on Mars….

At about 3:30pm, Curiosity stops the drive. It’s getting cold again. Moreover, we need to have enough time to snap a panorama to send in an afternoon communications link pass to Earth so that the science and engineering team have enough data to plan the next day. Point, shoot, point, shoot, and the detailed imagery is uplinked to Earth between 3-5pm, with the timing set by overhead flybys of NASA’s Mars orbiters, which provide data relay.

And the day is done! Curiosity will keep monitoring weather overnight. She’ll wake up a few times to continue sending back to Earth the important but less-critical-for-next-day’s-planning chemistry and additional image data. Meanwhile on Earth, the team pores over the images and results of the day’s drive to plan tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow we will drill instead of image? Do a ChemCam extravaganza for composition? Or drive as far as we can?

Curiosity might not jet around on a space ship like Dr. E’s sidekick rover, but she is the best eyes and ears on another planet we’ve got. She gets a new view of a new spot on Mars every day.

Check out Ehlmann’s National Geographic blog from Iceland or the Rhodes Project for more on the path to being a planetary scientist or see Dr. Bethany Ehlmann explain the recent rover exploration of sand dunes on Mars.


Blog Tour Schedule:

January 29th – A Dream Within A Dream
January 30th — Word Spelunking
January 31st — Living Simply
February 1st  — Cracking the Cover
February 2nd — Crossroad Reviews

Buy: Amazon

Follow Bethany: Website | Twitter

Follow NG Kids Books: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Take to the skies with planetary geologist Dr. E and her robot sidekick, Rover, to explore the solar system's wildest, most astronomical geology--with comic book flair!
This stellar book introduces kids to outer space through in-depth info and comic book adventure. Along the way, kids follow explorer Bethany Ehlmann, a member of the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, and her lovable robo-dog, Rover, as they study and protect our amazing solar system. Dr. E's conversational and funny explanations of the solar system and planetary geology will pull kids in like gravity. The pairing of fun, graphic novel side stories with science facts makes big concepts accessible and interesting to boys and girls of all levels, from STEM science fans to reluctant readers alike.

About the Authors: Dr. Bethany Ehlmann is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a
participating scientist on the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, a research scientist at JPL, and an assistant professor of planetary science at CalTech. She has studied compositional analysis of planetary surfaces, environmental change on Mars, chemical and physical weathering processes on planets, habitability, rock-microbe interactions, early Earth surface environments, and space policy. Ehlmann has a Ph.D. and M.S. in Geological Sciences from Brown University, an M.S. in both Geography and Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford (where she was a Rhodes Scholar), and a B.A. in both Earth and Planetary Sciences and Environmental Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. Before obtaining her current position at Caltech/JPL, she was a Marie Curie Fellow at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Paris.

Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning author and science superfan. Her books for children and young adults have been selected for the National Science Teachers Association's Best STEM Books and recommended reviews from School Librarians Workshop, Library Media Connection, and School Library Journal, among others.

About National Geographic Children's Books: National Geographic Kids inspires young adventurers to explore the world through award-winning magazines, books, website, apps, games, toys, television series and events and is the only kids brand with a world-class scientific organization at its core. National Geographic Kids (10 issues per year) and Little Kids (6 issues per year) are photo-driven publications and are available on newsstands or by subscription in print and on tablets. The award-winning website excites kids about the planet through games, videos, contests, photos, quizzes, and blogs about cultures, animals and destinations. National Geographic Kids Books publishes as many as 100 nonfiction titles each year and teaches the youngest readers why the world is a weird, fascinating and fun place. National Geographic Kids Entertainment brings the renowned National Geographic brand to quality animated and live-action, entertainment-driven television, home video and online programming.

One (1) winner will receive a copy of 
Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System!
US only
ends 2/6/18
winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Peggy said...

I look forward to seeing this. My granddaughter will love it. She loves to read and she loves Science.

Slowsly said...

Fascinating. Looking forward to reading the book.

Danielle H. said...

I enjoy learning more about space and writing science articles and books, so this is a must read for me.

John Smith said...

Exploring the solar system sounds interesting!

Tonja Drecker said...

This is right down my son's alley. Looks great!