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NASA patched Curiosity rover's autofocus problem over the air

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Pardon me while I say something that might not be entirely popular: Software updates are pretty awesome. Maybe not so much for game consoles, but, I digress because the Curiosity rover recently received a patch that improved the autofocus of its "ChemCam" telescope. Over the air. On Mars. Before the update, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory would take nine pictures of a subject (each at a different focus) to get one usable close-up image of any of the Red Planet's rocks and soils, and send them back home. Same goes for any sample analyses the laser was doing. The problem is that for those analyses to be anywhere remotely useful, the telescope projecting said laser needs to be in focus and the workaround in place wasn't very efficient.

The solution? Get the rover to keep taking nine images, but for it to self-analyze the photos and choose the one that has the best focus -- all with software totaling 40 kilobytes. That's right: The software used to spot water in Martian soil is lighter than the last Gmail update for your phone. The patch went live this week and Curiosity's already back in action.

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