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Curiosity rover marks seven years of Martian exploration

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NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Curiosity has been on the floor of Mars since August of 2012. Photograph Credit score: NASA

Seven years after efficiently finishing a troublesome touchdown maneuver onto the ground of Mars’ Gale Crater, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to make pioneering discoveries on the Pink Planet.

The rover landed in Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. This location was chosen after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected alerts of clay on the web site, an indication that lakes and streams flowed there billions of years in the past. Its mission was to find out whether or not the planet was as soon as liveable for microbial life, earlier than its local weather modified from heat and moist to chilly and dry.

Curiosity‘s research of rocks throughout the 96-mile- (154-km-) vast Gale Crater confirmed it as soon as hosted a community of lakes and streams that might have been liveable for so long as a number of hundred million years.  Over that point, clay minerals have been left behind because of water interacting with sediment in these lakes and streams.

So far, the rover has traveled a complete of 13 miles (21 km), the place it studied quite a lot of terrains. In 2014, it began to climb Mount Sharp, a three.Four-mile (5.5 km) mountain that rises from the center of Gale Crater.

Not like NASA’s earlier, solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, Curiosity runs on nuclear energy by way of a multimission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), that means it’s far much less weak to mud storms, which may forestall solar-powered rovers from recharging, inflicting them to lose energy.

Curiosity has been in an prolonged mission since its main mission was accomplished inside one Martian yr, which equals roughly two Earth years.

Early in its travels inside Gale Crater, the rover traveled over gravel and pebbles, terrain too small for drilling. Presently in a high-clay content material area alongside Mount Sharp, the rover has since drilled into the crater’s floor 22 instances, Though the drill bumped into issues on a number of events, mission engineers efficiently got here up with modern strategies to work round these issues.

Curiosity broke two of the raised treads, called grousers, on its left middle wheel in the first quarter of 2017. This included the one seen partially detached on the top of the wheel in this image from the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover's arm. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity broke two of the raised treads, known as grousers, on its left center wheel within the first quarter of 2017. This included the one seen partially indifferent on the highest of the wheel on this picture from the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) digicam on the rover’s arm. Photograph Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Since June of this yr, Curiosity has been traversing extra advanced geological terrains, together with “Strathdon,” an space made up of hardened sediment layers. Considerably totally different from the flatter, thinner layers the rover beforehand encountered, this area might have been formed by a mixture of each flowing water and wind.

At an outcrop named “Teal Ridge,” whose options additionally recommend a fancy geological historical past, Curiosity captured a 360-degree panorama.

“We’re seeing an evolution within the historical lake setting recorded in these rocks. It wasn’t only a static lake. It’s serving to us transfer from a simplistic view of Mars going from moist to dry. As an alternative of a linear course of, the historical past of water was extra difficult,” acknowledged Valerie Fox of Caltech, co-lead of Curiosity‘s clay unit marketing campaign.

The rover is now exploring the clay-rich aspect of Mount Sharp initially detected by MRO from orbit. Drilled samples there have revealed a few of the highest ranges of clay minerals Curiosity has discovered on the Martian floor. Nonetheless, in a thriller that continues to stump scientists, samples taken from different areas on Mount Sharp, the place MRO didn’t detect giant quantities of clay, present equally excessive clay ranges. One concept is that mud current on the latter, flatter terrain obscured clay alerts there way over it did on the previous, which is roofed in pebbles.

Lately, Curiosity detected excessive ranges of methane in some elements of Gale Crater’s ambiance. On Earth, atmospheric methane is produced largely by means of organic processes, particularly by microbes. However methane may also be produced by geological processes, particularly, interplay between scorching water and rock, so the presence of the fuel doesn’t quantity to proof of life.

Curiosity has sufficient energy remaining to function for about one other seven years and stays in good well being.

Video courtesy of NASA / JPL

 

 

 

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Laurel Kornfeld is an newbie astronomer and freelance author from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass School, Rutgers College, and earned a Graduate Certificates of Science from Swinburne College’s Astronomy On-line program. Her writings have been revealed on-line in The Atlantic, Astronomy journal’s visitor weblog part, the UK Area Convention, the 2009 IAU Basic Meeting newspaper, The Area Reporter, and newsletters of varied astronomy golf equipment. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Newbie Astronomers, Inc. Particularly within the outer photo voltaic system, Laurel gave a quick presentation on the 2008 Nice Planet Debate held on the Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.


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