1909 Lincoln Cent on Mars Collects Dust

by Darrin Lee Unser on November 1, 2013 · 2 comments

A lot of dust can accumulate over a year, and no place is that more true than on the surface of Mars. A high resolution photo of a 1909 VDB Lincoln cent delivered from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity pays testament to that.

Photos of 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity

Here, three different photos of the 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on Mars rover Curiosity. The first photo was taken on Earth in August 2011. The second photo was snapped on Mars in September 2012. The third photo was taken on Mars in October 2013. The cent is accumulating Martian dust and clumps even though it is mounted vertically on Curiosity. (Higher resolution images of the penny are shown further below.)

The classic United States coin is now covered in Martian dust that has built up ever since Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012.

NASA placed the 1909 Lincoln cent on Curiosity as a homage to geologists’ tradition of using an object to scale specimens. The coin is attached to a calibration target used by the rover’s camera known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI.

1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity on Oct 2, 2013

This photo of the 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on a calibration target was snapped by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover in Gale Crater. It was taken on the 411th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars on Oct. 2, 2013. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

MAHLI’s principal investigator, Ken Edgett, had recommended the inclusion of the coin. He chose the 1909 VDB Lincoln cent because Curiosity was originally scheduled to launch in 2009, the centennial of the introduction of the Lincoln cent. Unfortunately, the rover did not blast off until 2011 but the cent remained since its specifications had already been approved.

"Everyone in the United States can recognize the penny and immediately know how big it is, and can compare that with the rover hardware and Mars materials in the same image," offered Edgett as reasoning for his choice of the cent.

Coins have been used on previous NASA missions. This marked the first time, however, that one would be subjected to the conditions of another planet while being monitored.

Calibration target for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity (Sept 9, 2012)

This is a photo of the calibration target for the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. It was taken by the camera during the 34th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars on Sept. 9, 2012. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

Since landing, the rover has traveled under two kilometers, yet collected 190 gigabits of data and sent back tens of thousands of images including shots of the penny.

1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity on Sept 9, 2012

Photo of the 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on Mars Rover Curiosity on Sept 9, 2012. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems.

Lincoln cents first debuted in 1909 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. The coin was designed by artist Victor David Brenner as part of a larger coin initiative established by President Theodore Roosevelt. The artist’s initials originally appeared on the reverse of the strike.

For the latest news about NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity and the Mars mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/.

Finally, here are two more photos of the penny and Curiosity while on Earth.

NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity and its Calibration Target Area

Here is an on Earth photo of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity and an inset showing the calibration target area. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity in August 2011

Here is a close-up photo of the 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent on Mars rover Curiosity. It was taken on Earth in August 2011. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Munzen November 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

At least they chose a Philadelphia coin. I was really afraid they’d sacrificed an “S”.

firesurfer April 9, 2014 at 3:10 pm

In the long run,it’s safer on mars.

Leave a Comment