Determining the position of the robot Curiosity will be possible by studying the eclipses of Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars.
So far, locating the rover has been done using the data emitted by its antennae or by examining the images sent back to Earth by the probes orbiting the Red Planet.
A team from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, or UCM, developed a mathematical model designed to predict and be able to observe these eclipses from the surface of the Mars, a method that can be used to determine the location of the rover.
The work was published in Monthly Notices, the newsletter of Britain’s Royal Astronomical Society.
The chance of the rover’s antennae and other systems failing is very small, but if that were to occur an alternative for locating Curiosity would be to use the eclipses that it observed, as UCM’s Gonzalo Barderas explained to EFE.
“The eclipses of Phobos offer an alternative method for determining the position from where the rover observed them,” the scientist said, adding, “if it’s known when the transit begins and ends, it can be determined where the robot is.”
In Curiosity’s case, with just two minutes of observations, using the data from the times of initial and final contact for the eclipses that it observed on Sep 13 and 17, it is possible to reduce the location error margin for the rover from kilometres to metres.
The mathematical model to predict the eclipses of Phobos was developed as part of the MetNet project, the aim of which is to deploy a network of meteorological probes over the surface of Mars.