- NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover, launched 10 years ago, is still running. It has analyzed 41 rock and soil samples to understand what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling.
- The Curiosity team is planning to spend the next few years exploring the sulfate-rich area.
A decade ago, on August 5, 2012, a jetpack landed Nasa’s Curiosity mars rover on the Red Planet. It was the beginning of the SUV-size explorer’s pursuit of evidence that Mars had the conditions needed to support microscopic life billions of years ago.
Over the past 10 years, the Nasa’s Curiosity mars rover has driven nearly 18 miles (29 kilometers) and ascended 2,050 feet (625 meters) as it explores Gale Crater and the foothills of Mount Sharp within it. The Mars rover has analyzed 41 rock and soil samples, relying on a suite of science instruments to learn what they reveal about Earth’s rocky sibling. Its success has pushed a team of engineers to plan ways to minimize wear and tear and keep the rover rolling.
Curiosity’s mission was recently expanded for another three years, allowing it to continue among NASA’s fleet of important astrobiological missions.
A Bounty of Science
It’s been a busy decade for the Curiosity Mars Rover. The roving explorer has studied the skies on the Red Planet Mars, capturing images of shining clouds and drifting moons. Its radiation sensor assists NASA in figuring out how to keep future astronauts safe by measuring the amount of high-energy radiation they would be exposed to on the Martian surface.
Most importantly, Curiosity has found that liquid water, as well as the chemical building blocks and nutrients needed for supporting life, were present for at least tens of millions of years in Gale Crater.
Now, the intrepid rover is driving through a canyon that marks the transition to a new region, and one thought to have formed as the water dried out, leaving behind salty minerals called sulfates.
The Curiosity Mars Rover has made remarkable progress up the mountain. The team captured a “postcard” image of distant buttes in 2015.
The Curiosity team is set to spend the next few years exploring the sulfate-rich area. Within it, they have targets in mind like the Gediz Vallis channel, which may have formed during a flood late in Mount Sharp’s history, and large cemented fractures showing groundwater’s effects higher up the mountain.
The team has every expectation the plucky rover still has years of exploring ahead of it through careful planning and engineering hacks.
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