1909 Lincoln Cent on Mars in NASA Astronomy Pic of the Day

This photo, which includes a 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent aboard NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars, was NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day for Dec. 12, 2014. Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, MSSS.

December 12, 2014

While one may not normally associate numismatics with the planet Mars, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day blends the two seemingly disparate interests with an image sure to excite coin and space enthusiasts alike.

Posted today, Dec. 12, 2014, the Astronomy Picture of the Day shows an image of elongated crystal shapes taken on the surface of Mars by the Curiosity rover. An inset on the picture shows the 1909 VDB Lincoln cent that is attached to a calibration target used by the rover’s camera known as the Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI.

NASA offers this description of today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

"This extreme close-up, a mosaic from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the Curiosity rover, spans a breathtaking 5 centimeters. It captures what appear to be elongated crystal shapes formed by the precipitation of minerals dissolved in water, a likely result of the evaporation of ancient lake or river from the Martian surface. Brushed by a dust removal tool and illuminated by white LEDs, the target rock named Mojave was found on the Pink Cliffs outcrop of the Pahrump Hills at the base of Mount Sharp. The MAHLI images were acquired on Curiosity’s sol 809, known on planet Earth as November 15, 2014. Of course, the inset 1909 Lincoln Cent image is provided for a comparison scale. Covered with Mars dust itself, the penny is a MAHLI calibration target attached to the rover."

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 26, 2011 to search areas of Mars for past or present conditions favorable for life, and conditions capable of preserving a record of life. After a 350,000,000 mile journey, the rover landed on the planet on Aug. 6, 2012. It has been surveying a small portion of the planet ever since.

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 at the base of Mount Sharp. It was taken on the 809th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars on Nov. 15, 2014. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

The inclusion of the 1909 VDB Lincoln Cent was at the recommendation of MAHLI’s principal investigator, Ken Edgett. His selected the coin because Curiosity was originally scheduled to launch in 2009, one century after the introduction of the Lincoln Cent. One cent coins honoring the nation’s 16th President debuted in 1909. The coin’s obverse portrait of Abraham Lincoln was created by artist Victor David Brenner whose initials originally appeared on the coin’s reverse.

U.S. Mint-struck coins have been included in past NASA missions, but this marks the first time one was subjected to the conditions of another planet while being monitored. Over two years of Martian dust has collected on the obverse side of the Lincoln cent.

Here, four 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 fourth photo was snapped on Mars in November 2014. Notice that the cent is accumulating Martian dust and clumps even as it’s mounted vertically on Curiosity.

More information on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity and the Mars mission can be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html.