Martian eclipses may pinpoint rover's spot

Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:38 PM   |   0 comments

MADRID, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- The Curiosity rover could use solar eclipses by martian moons as an alternative method of determining and reporting its exact location, European scientists say.

While Curiosity's location on the Red Planet's surface is normally determined using data transmitted from its antennas as well as the space probes that orbit the red planet, if those systems should ever fail there would be an alternative for determining the location of the rover, Spanish researchers said: "ask it" what eclipses it sees.

Scientists at the Complutense University of Madrid have developed a method for accomplishing this, the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology reported Thursday.

They initially set out to create a mathematical tool for predicting eclipses of the sun by the moon Phobos but realized their method could yield the precise location of any spacecraft capable of observing such eclipses from the martian surface.

"It could prove especially useful when there is no direct communication with Earth that allows for estimation of its position using radiometric dating or images provided by orbiters," researcher Gonzolo Barderas said.

Just two minutes of observations by a rover using the start and end times of Phobos' contact with the sun could produce coordinates of its location accurate to within yards, the researchers said.

Curiosity will have the chance to observe eclipses in August 2013 the Spanish scientists say could confirm the validity of their tool.

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