A reasonable answer to any one of the three enumerated parts gets the bounty!

I added some dirty pictures of Curiosity to Curiosity is still dirty! after August 9, 2018 (Sol 2137), and in this March 2021 selfie PIA24543: Curiosity's Selfie at Mont Mercou things still look roughly the same almost three years later.

There are some cropped bits below from the 21 MB JPEG downloadable there.


  1. Has Curiosity ever taken a good hard look at the dirt covering its top surface? The standard selfie-taking procedure probably tries to "stand back" for a wider view rather than zooming or moving in. Perhaps some spacecraft-health images have been taken at a closer distance with better resolution?
  2. Can it? Maybe not. I don't know the complete range of motion and depth of focus available to whatever ghostly arm does the selfie taking that we never get to see :-)
  3. Have individual particles been sized? In any image, has a single bit of Mars "dust" or regolith been large enough that it could be resolved in a photograph? Is there a record for the largest bit of dust that wind could bring aloft and redeposit on to Curiosity? Can MAHLI get up there and take a high magnification image of the dust?

Cropped from ttps://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA24543 PIA24543: Curiosity's Selfie at Mont Mercou

Cropped from ttps://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA24543 PIA24543: Curiosity's Selfie at Mont Mercou

Cropped from ttps://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA24543 PIA24543: Curiosity's Selfie at Mont Mercou

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If it can, then the MAHLI camera would be the one to take such photos 1, 2. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Sep 19, 2021 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


1 & 2: Yes. MAHLI has imaged parts of the rover. A good example from the image archive is one taken on Sol 3204, https://mars.nasa.gov/raw_images/964387/?site=msl.

3: Yes. The full-resolution image resolves individual dust grains. The bolt heads in this image can be used as a reference to estimate grain size. So can the connector at the bottom of the image, labeled M83513/02-DN, whose datasheet identifies it as a 25S layout, 30.01 mm wide. So the largest grains are about 0.3 mm. The smallest grains, like those filling the connector's label, are unresolveable, but MAHLI has taken an even closer look at this box.

enter image description here

MAHLI also looks at its rover-mounted calibration target, of course, as shown on its wikipedia page. A close-up thereof might include smaller dust grains, for instance.

From that closer look:

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity acquired this image using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), located on the turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm, on June 10, 2021, Sol 3144 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 15:34:15 UTC.

When this image was obtained, the focus motor count position was 13257. This number indicates the internal position of the MAHLI lens at the time the image was acquired. This count also tells whether the dust cover was open or closed. Values between 0 and 6000 mean the dust cover was closed; values between 12500 and 16000 occur when the cover is open. For close-up images, the motor count can in some cases be used to estimate the distance between the MAHLI lens and target. For example, in-focus images obtained with the dust cover open for which the lens was 2.5 cm from the target have a motor count near 15270. If the lens is 5 cm from the target, the motor count is near 14360; if 7 cm, 13980; 10 cm, 13635; 15 cm, 13325; 20 cm, 13155; 25 cm, 13050; 30 cm, 12970. These correspond to image scales, in micrometers per pixel, of about 16, 25, 32, 42, 60, 77, 95, and 113.

Most images acquired by MAHLI in daylight use the sun as an illumination source. However, in some cases, MAHLI's two groups of white light LEDs and one group of longwave ultraviolet (UV) LEDs might be used to illuminate targets. When Curiosity acquired this image, the group 1 white light LEDs were off, the group 2 white light LEDs were off, and the ultraviolet (UV) LEDS were off.

The focus motor position of 13257 suggests a distance of 15 to 20 cm with a scale between 60 and 77 microns per pixel which is consistent with an estimated 13 pixels per mm using the 30 mm (390 pixel) connector as a scale bar. One can estimate that grains of 4 pixels might be barely resolved.

Had the camera been moved to the closest distance mentioned above with a scale of 16 microns per pixel, dust grains less than 100 microns should be resolvable.


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