NASA’s Curiosity rover has come a good distance since touching
down on Mars seven years in the past. It has traveled a complete of 13 miles (21
kilometers) and ascended 1,207 toes (368 meters) to its present location. Alongside
the way in which, Curiosity found Mars had the situations to
assist microbial life within the historic previous, amongst different issues.
And the rover is way from carried out, having simply drilled its
22nd pattern from the Martian floor. It has a couple of extra years earlier than its
nuclear energy system degrades sufficient to considerably restrict operations. After
that, cautious budgeting of its energy will permit the rover to maintain finding out the
Curiosity is now midway by way of a area scientists name the
“clay-bearing unit” on the facet of Mount Sharp, inside Gale
Billions of years in the past, there have been streams and lakes inside the crater. Water altered
the sediment deposited inside the lakes, forsaking a number of clay minerals
within the area. That clay sign was first detected from area by NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) a couple of years earlier than Curiosity launched.
“This space is without doubt one of the causes we got here to Gale
Crater,” mentioned Kristen Bennett of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of many
co-leads for Curiosity’s clay-unit marketing campaign. “We have been finding out orbiter
photos of this space for 10 years, and we’re lastly in a position to have a look up
Rock samples that the rover has drilled right here have revealed the
highest quantities of clay minerals discovered throughout the mission. However Curiosity
has detected equally excessive quantities of clay on different elements of Mount Sharp,
together with in areas the place MRO did not detect clay. That is led scientists to
surprise what’s inflicting the findings from orbit and the floor to vary.
The science staff is pondering
by way of doable causes as to why the clay minerals right here stood out to MRO. The
rover encountered a “car parking zone filled with gravel and pebbles” when it
first entered the realm, mentioned the marketing campaign’s different co-lead, Valerie Fox of Caltech.
One thought is that the pebbles are the important thing: Though
the person pebbles are too small for MRO to see, they could collectively
seem to the orbiter as a single clay sign scattered throughout the realm. Mud
additionally settles extra readily over flat rocks than it does over the pebbles; that
identical mud can obscure the alerts seen from area. The pebbles had been too small for
Curiosity to drill into, so the science staff is in search of different clues to
resolve this puzzle.
Curiosity exited the pebble car parking zone again in June and began
to come across extra advanced geologic options. It stopped to take a 360-degree
panorama at an outcrop known as “Teal Ridge.” Extra lately, it took
detailed photos of “Strathdon,” a rock product of dozens of sediment layers
which have hardened right into a brittle, wavy heap. Not like the skinny, flat layers
related to lake sediments Curiosity has studied, the wavy layers in these
options counsel a extra dynamic surroundings. Wind, flowing water or each may
have formed this space.
Each Teal Ridge and Strathdon signify modifications within the
panorama. “We’re seeing an evolution within the historic lake surroundings
recorded in these rocks,” mentioned Fox. “It wasn’t only a static lake. It is
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 sophisticated.”
Curiosity is discovering a richer, extra advanced story behind
the water on Mount Sharp – a course of Fox likened to lastly with the ability to learn
the paragraphs in a e-book – a dense e-book, with pages
torn out, however a captivating story to piece collectively.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
leads the Mars Science Laboratory mission that features Curiosity.
For extra about NASA’s Curiosity Mars
rover mission, go to:
Information Media Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA Headquarters, Washington