As kitschy as black lights are, they’re responsible for quite a few amusing memories from my teenage years, even if many of them got wiped away by Dateline NBC’s Gross Police. Leave it to NASA to make UV rays exciting again, even if the final product is slightly underwhelming visually.
The Mars rover Curiosity used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument to take nighttime photos of a rock called “Sayunei,” as well as MAHLI’s calibration target, which mostly consists of two LED lights and a fluorescent swatch. I know everyone was thinking “calibration target” when the excitement kicked in. Curiosity’s front wheel actually scraped across part of Sayunei, which created a dust-free area to photograph. The pictures were taken on January 22nd and received by NASA on January 23rd. And despite what it looks like, that area is only about 1.3 inches by 1 inch.
The MAHLI, which is an adjustable-focus color camera, used its included LED lights for the pictures, in both the white-LED and ultraviolet-LED form. “The purpose of acquiring observations under ultraviolet illumination was to look for fluorescent minerals,” explained Ken Edgett, the MAHLI Principal Investigator of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. “If something looked green, yellow, orange or red under the ultraviolet illumination, that’d be a more clear-cut indicator of fluorescence.” So if anybody got any blanket fuzz on this rock, we’ll find out about it.
Sayunei is located close to an area where Curiosity will be drilling into a rock in a few weeks. This area around the Gale Crater is being investigated to see whether or not the environment has ever been able to sustain life, even at the microbial level. This whole “looking for life on other planets” thing is pretty new, right? It’s one of the few things I’m genuinely optimistic about. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to put up with the microbial beings on this planet, like everyone else but me in Walmart.