Curiosity has got a new mountain to climb, and will soon have mountains of data to share. The Mars rover has just arrived at the base of Mount Sharp, at the center of Gale Crater, NASA announced today.
Scientists are hopeful that the silicon-rich rock of Mount Sharp, which is roughly the size of Mount Rainier in Washington, will provide a window into tens of millions of years of Martian history — and reveal whether the Red Planet once hosted life.
“We have finally arrived at the far frontier that we have sought for so long,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger.
This is what that frontier looks like. This image from NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover shows the “Amargosa Valley,” on the slopes leading up to Mount Sharp.
And this is where Curiosity is headed into the mountain range. the rover had to switch routes because her wheels weren’t holding up as well as scientists hoped — leading her to smoother terrain.
The route of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover up the slopes of Mount Sharp on Mars is shown in yellow in this false-colour image.
The rover will explore the Pahrump Hills and onto what’s called the Murray Formation, which forms the base of Mount Sharp.
During the trip and at the Murray Foundation, scientists hope to find more rocks like the one below, which suggests that the Red Planet wasn’t always so red. This rock, named Bonanza King, is located across the boundary that defines the base of Mount Sharp.
The “Bonanza King” rock was found to contain an abundance of silicon, indicating an aqueous environment in the past that might have played host to Martian microbes. You can see below how “Bonanza King” stacks up against other rocks that Curiosity has investigated.
The chart shows the silicon and aluminium content of the rocks that Curiosity has analysed so far:
“At the Murray Formation, we potentially have millions to tens of millions of years of Martian history just waiting for us to explore,” said Curiosity Rover Mission Scientist Kathryn Stack.
“If the past two years of Curiosity’s exploration are any indication, we’re going to see things, exciting things that we’ve never seen before and couldn’t possibly have anticipated,” she added.
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