Curiosity Science Instruments


Curiosity’s scientific instruments are the tools that bring us stunning images of Mars and ground-breaking discoveries.

This illustration of Mars rover Curiosity is marked with the locations of 16 instruments installed in various spots on the rover.



A camera that takes color images and color video footage of the Martian terrain. The instrument is also used to study the Martian landscape and support the driving and sampling operations of the rover.

Animation showing the location of the MastCam on the Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
To take panoramic color images of the surface and atmospheric features and the terrain ahead of the rover.
Mounted about human-eye height, about 6.5 feet (2.0 meters), with about 10 inches (25 centimeters) between them.
Color Quality
Similar to that of consumer digital cameras; 2 megapixels.
Image Size
~1600 X 1200 pixels
Image Resolution
RESOLUTION: 2.9 inches (7.4 centimeters) per pixel at a distance of about six-tenths of a mile (1 kilometer) and about 0.006 inch (150 microns) per pixel at a distance of 6.6 feet (2 meters)

Left Eye (Mastcam-34)
450 microns/pixel at ~6.5-foot (2-meter) distance 22 centimeters/pixel at ~.6 miles (1 kilometer)

Right Eye (Mastcam-100)
~150 microns/pixel at ~6.5-foot (2-meter) distance 7.4 centimeters/pixel scale at ~.6 miles (1 kilometer)
Focal Length
In focus from about 6 feet (2.1 meters), the nearest view of the surface, to infinity

Left Eye
~34 mm

Right Eye
~100 mm
Focal Ratio and Field of View
Left Eye
f/8 and 15° to f/8.5 and 39.4°
Stereo Baseline of the Pair
~24.5 cm
8 Gigabyte memory allows several hours of HD video or 5,500+ raw frames to be stored (e.g., a full-scale mosaic of 360° x 80° imaged in 3 science color filters with at least 20% overlap between images)
HD Video
10 frames per second

Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)

A camera that provides earthbound scientists with close-up views of the minerals, textures, and structures in Martian rocks and the surface layer of rocky debris and dust.

Location of Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Microscopic Imaging of minerals, textures and structures in rocks and soil at scales smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Mounted on the turret at the end of the robotic arm.
Color Quality
Similar to that of consumer digital cameras, with an autofocus ability.
Image Size
Up to 1600 x 1200 pixels
Focal Length
In focus from 18.3 mm at the closest working distance to 21.3 mm at infinity
Focal Ratio and Field of View
From f/9.8 and 34° to f/8.5 and 39.4°
8 Gigabyte flash memory storage; 128 megabyte synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM)
HD Video
First sends back thumbnails so scientists can select best images to send back to Earth

Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)

A camera that took color video during the rover's descent toward the surface, providing an "astronaut's view" of the local environment.

The location of Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Took pictures during the spacecraft descent through the Martian atmosphere.
Mounted on the fore-port-side of the rover, pointing toward the ground.
8 Gigabyte flash memory storage allows over 4,000 raw frames
HD Video
Four color frames per second; close to 1,600 X 1,200 pixels per frame


Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS)

A spectrometer that measures the abundance of chemical elements in rocks and soils.

Location of Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Analyze chemical elements in Martian rock and "soil" (regolith).
On the turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm.
About the size of a cupcake.
Size of Sampled Area
Possibility of 13.9 microns/pixel
Focal Length
About 1.7 cm in diameter when the instrument is in contact with the sample.
Can operate day or night and takes about one-third of the time to process readings.

Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam)

An instrument that first uses a laser to vaporize materials then later analyzes their elemental composition using an on-board spectrograph.

Location of the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
To analyze the chemical composition of rocks and soil.
The laser, telescope, and camera sit on Curiosity's mast (its "forehead"), while the spectrometer is located in its "body".
Focuses laser and camera

Remote Micro-Imager:
One of Curiosity's "eyes," captures detailed images of the area illuminated by the laser beam

Vaporizes rock surfaces, creating a plasma of their component gases

Three spectrographs divide the plasma light into wavelengths for chemical analysis

Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction (CheMin)

An instrument that identifies and measures the abundances of various minerals on Mars.

Location of Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction (CheMin) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
To analyze the chemical composition of rocks and soil.
Inside the Curiosity rover's body.
About the size of a laptop computer inside a carrying case.
Spectrometer Type
An X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument.
Takes up to 10 hours of analysis time, spread out over two or more Martian nights, although some samples may provide acceptable results in a single sol (Martian day).

Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite

A suite of instruments that searches for compounds of the element carbon that are associated with life and explores ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the Martian ecosphere.

Location of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Identify a wide range of organic (carbon-containing) compounds.
Inside the rover body, on the front end of the rover.
A box about the size of a microwave oven.
About 40 kilograms.
Gas Chromatograph:
Separates gases to aid in identifying them

Mass Spectrometer:
Detecting key elements necessary for life (nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur, oxygen and carbon)

Tunable Laser Spectrometer:
Detecting water vapor and understanding the history of Mars atmosphere or determining whether methane, if found, is produced by life or geologic processes

Sample Manipulation System:
Wheel of 74 small cups for samples (9 cups contain calibration samples; 9 filled with chemical solvents for lower-temperature wet chemistry experiments, and 59 quartz cups that are small ovens for heating the powdered samples to extract gases)

Detects less than one part-per-billion of an organic compound

Heat most rock samples to about 1,000 degrees Celsius (about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) to extract gases for analysis

Radiation Detectors

Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD)

An instrument that measures and identifies all high-energy radiation on the Martian surface, such as protons, energetic ions of various elements, neutrons, and gamma rays.

Location of the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Monitored the space radiation in space on the way to Mars and then on the surface as the rover roves. This information helps shape future human missions to Mars by letting us know how much shielding from radiation future Mars astronauts will need to protect them.
Rover Deck, pointed toward the sky.
Similar to a small toaster or six-pack of soda.

Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)

A pulsing neutron generator that is used to detect water content as low as one-tenth of 1 percent and resolve layers of water and ice beneath the surface.

Location of the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Search for signs of water by measuring the hydrogen in the ground below. Detections of hydrogen may indicate the presence of water bound in minerals.
On the aft-port-side of the rover "body."
Measures subsurface hydrogen up to one meter (three feet) below the surface.
Can detect water content as low as 1/10th of 1 percent.

Environmental Sensors

Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)

An instrument that measures and provides daily and seasonal reports on Martian weather.

Location of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Mars Curiosity rover.

Tech Specs

Main Job
Weather station to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, winds, plus ultraviolet radiation levels.
Two "bolt-like" booms on the rover's mast ("neck") that measure wind, ground temperature and humidity UV sensor on the rover deck ("back") about 1.5 meters above ground level pressure sensor inside the rover body and connected to the external atmosphere via a tube that exits the rover body through a small opening with protection against dust deposition.
Designed to survive a -130 °C to +70 °C temperature range and minimize power consumption for operation.
Autonomously record at least 5 minutes of data at 1 Hz each hour, every sol (Martian day), for all sensors (i.e., total baseline of two hours per sol); maximum of three hours of operation per sol allows a continuous block of monitoring time if desired.

Atmospheric Sensors

Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI)

An instrument that collected engineering data during the spacecraft's high-speed, extremely hot entry into the Martian atmosphere.

Tech Specs

Main Job
To collect engineering data during the spacecraft's high-speed, extremely hot entry into the Martian atmosphere.
Spacecraft heatshield
12.5 kilograms for the instrument suite.
30 Watts during entry, descent and landing (EDL); no power during launch and cruise phases.
Seven pressure ports and seven integrated sensor plugs throughout the headshield, as well as supporting electronics and wiring:

MEDLI Integrated Sensor Plug (MISP)
Each plug is 1.3 inches (33 millimeters) in diameter and 0.8 inch (20.3 millimeters) deep.

Mars Entry Atmospheric Data System (MEADS)
Port diameter is 0.1 inch (2.54 millimeters) in diameter; tube, transducer, and fittings require a volume of 3.0 by 3.4 by 7.2 inches (76 x 86 x 183 millimeters) in the interior of the heatshield.

Sensor Support Electronics (SSE)
Two electronic boards housed in a 3.0 by 9.75 by 13.25-inch (76.2 by 247.7 by 336.6 millimeter) aluminum chassis.
Data Return
0.9 MB (megabytes) of raw data.