Contact: Jon Lomberg
P.O. Box 207
Honaunau, Hawaii 96726 USA

Honaunau, Hawaii, Dec.2, 2011

CURIOSITY’S MARTIAN SUNDIAL: an instrument and a special message is sent to Mars aboard NASA’s latest mission.

Artist Jon Lomberg, working with a team of space scientists, announces the launch of a new message artifact destined for the surface of Mars: a sundial whose four edges each contain a panel of text and image, written by Jim Bell and the MER sundial team and accompanied by graphics designed by Lomberg.

NASA’s latest and most ambitious scientific mission to Mars is the Mars Science Lander called Curiosity. Like its predecessors on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, this new sundial doubles as the camera color calibration target for the Mastcam camera system that is the rover’s primary instrument for imaging the surface of Mars. Mastcam was developed for NASA/JPL by Malin Space Science Systems, Inc. of San Diego CA, under the guidance of Principal Investigator Michael Malin.

Curiosity’s calibration target provides a valuable educational activity for students, who can use the image of the sundial transmitted from Mars to Earth to learn about the ways that such simple but elegant instruments can be used to determine the time, date, season, and latitude on a planetary surface. The global spirit of space exploration is symbolized by the decoration on the “face” of the sundial—the names of Mars in 16 languages, including ancient Sumerian, Mayan, Inuktitut, and Hawaiian.

The original idea for the educational project came from Bill Nye The Science Guy, now the Executive Director of The Planetary Society.   MER imaging scientist, Prof. James Bell led the team, which included Lomberg to design the sundial and its message.  Dr. Bell is President of The Planetary Society. 

The message on the edges of Curiosity’s new sundial is not meant for Martians or other extraterrestrials. Rather it is really meant for humans–“martian” humans who will be on Mars, many decades or perhaps even hundreds of years from now. Someday today’s Mars missions will be the stuff of history, and some explorer, prospector or geologist will find our long-lost robots. The message is for them—we hope that they can easily find somebody who understands English, the primary language of the nation that launched this spacecraft.

The illustrations of the message try to evoke our species’ long fascination with the Red Planet. They use classical imagery of the god Ares, as well as astronomers’ drawings of Mars, the Viking lander and other Mars-bound spacecraft. The footprints, in the sands of Mars and the sands of time, symbolize humanity’s wandering spirit that has led us to Mars.

Bell and Lomberg were both on the team that designed the similar sundials on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. That sundial carried a different date and motto, and a different message along the edges using children’s art and Lomberg’s drawings. That team, Malin, and others also provided advice on Curiosity’s new sundial message, including inputs from Diane Bollen, Lou Friedman, Sheri Klug, Tyler Nordgren, Bill Nye, Steve Squyres, Larry Stark, Woody Sullivan, and Aileen Yingst.

Jim Bell is a planetary scientist from Arizona State University in Tempe AZ, the Payload Element Lead for the Pancam instruments on Spirit and Opportunity, and President of The Planetary Society in Pasadena, CA.

Artist Jon Lomberg was Design Director for  NASA’s Voyager Golden Record and a long-time collaborator of Carl Sagan. He won an Emmy Award for his work as Chief Artist of the TV series COSMOS.

Along with the two sundials on the MER rovers, and the Visions of Mars DVD aboard NASA’s Phoenix mission, this is the fifth message artifact of his design that Jon Lomberg will have launched toward the Mars.  The first was on Russia’s failed Mars 96 mission.  Three have made it there, perhaps destined to be received by some future human society on Mars. The fifth is now on its way.

For additional information contact:

 Jon Lomberg

P.O. Box 207                                                                                                                          Honaunau, Hawaii 96726 USA                                                                                                     808-328-9598  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Picture Picture captions:

The Sundial aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover.                                                                          (credit: MER Sundial Team)

The message on the edges of the Sundial                                                                                   (credit: Jim Bell and Jon Lomberg)





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