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Sci-Tech

NASA's Lincoln penny on Mars shows how hard the wind blows

The Curiosity rover's 1909 penny looks very different than it did at the end of a massive dust storm.

The global dust storm on Mars earlier this year coated NASA's rovers in a layer of red planet grime. A new set of images shows how the current windy season is cleaning off the Curiosity rover. 

Curiosity team member and planetary scientist Abigail Fraeman posted an update to the mission blog on Wednesday with two images taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover's arm.

This Curiosity penny image from Mars comes from Sept. 4, 2018.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The first image dates to Sept. 4 and shows the coin used to help calibrate Curiosity's camera and test its performance. The penny is coated with Mars dust, a reminder of the powerful storm that knocked NASA's Opportunity rover out of contact in June. 

Later, Curiosity's penny looks pretty clean.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The second image is from Dec. 2 and shows a much cleaner penny. "Dust has certainly been blowing around in Gale Crater lately," writes Fraeman. 

Curiosity's clean coin may help boost optimism about the Opportunity rover, which went into hibernation when dust covered its solar panels and cut off its power. NASA is still hopeful that winds will clean the panels and allow the rover to recharge and make contact. 

Curiosity is currently investigating a group of red Jura rocks and the team hopes to find a suitable site for drilling to get a better understanding of their geology. It'll be doing so with a much less dusty rover than they had weeks ago.