The Curiosity rover has spent time in one of the most scenic landscapes on Mars. Curiosity is NASA’s mobile laboratory on Mars. Up to now it has been collecting rock powder from the surface of Mars. But now it is starting a new two-year mission. The first day of the mission was on October 1. The Curiosity rover has entered a new phase of its stay on Mars that will lead to new discoveries about the neighboring planet.
Curiosity is going to new destinations on planet Mars. One of them is a ridge that has material rich in hematite, an iron-oxide mineral. The ridge is about one mile and a half from its current location. The next stop after that is a bedrock that is rich in clay. It lies beyond the ridge that is rich in hematite.
The two exploration sites are on lower Mount Sharp. There, Curiosity is looking for evidence of ancient, water-rich environments. Evidence of that would point to a time, even if distant, in the planet’s history when the planet had water. Curiosity is looking for anything that would point to something different than the harsh and dry conditions on Mars today.
Ashwin Vasavada is a Curiosity Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He said that the mobile laboratory keeps reaching layers that are higher and younger on Mount Sharp. “Even after four years of exploring near and on the mountain, it still has the potential to completely surprise us”, he added.
Curiosity took hundreds of photos in the recent weeks. NASA’s rover landed on Mars in August 2012. Since then, it has taken more than 180,000 images. But the newly available photographs show interesting vistas on planet Mars. One of them is a selfie taken with the color camera placed at the end of its robotic arm. Another one is a scenic panorama taken with the color camera placed at the top of the rover’s mast.
Life on Mars
Michael Meyer is a Curiosity Program Scientist working at NASA Headquarters in Washington. He said that Curiosity’s current assignment is “the ongoing study of ancient habitability and the potential for life”. He added that the mission is going to study the succession of different rock layers, to understand the history of the planet. Curiosity is going to look at the geological details of the planet to see what happened throughout the years. The findings of this mission have the potential to change our understanding of the planet Mars. It is going to shed light over how the planet evolved over time. Meyer also said that Curiosity has been and will continue to be a cornerstone in NASA’s plans for future missions.
The next two destinations for Curiosity are dubbed the “Hematite Unit” and the “Clay Unit”. They were identified during Mars orbiter observations that took place before Curiosity even landed. Because hematite and clay both typically form in wet environments, the two areas are a priority for the mission.
Image source: here.