Science

NASA's Curiosity rover reaches its primary destination

PTI Washington | Updated on March 12, 2018

rover

After more than two years of touching down on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has finally reached the foothills of Mount Sharp, the primary destination it was designed to explore.

Mount Sharp is a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the centre of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination.

“Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world,” said Jim Green, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“After a historic and innovative landing along with its successful science discoveries, the scientific sequel is upon us,” said Green.

Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain’s lower slopes.

The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than continuing on to the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes.

“It has been a long but historic journey to this Martian mountain,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Curiosity currently is positioned at the base of the mountain along a pale, distinctive geological feature called the Murray formation.

Compared to the neighbouring crater-floor terrain, the rock of the Murray formation is softer and does not preserve impact scars, as well. As viewed from orbit, it is not as well-layered as other units at the base of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity reached its current location after its route was modified earlier this year in response to excessive wheel wear.

In late 2013, the team realised a region of the Martian terrain littered with sharp, embedded rocks was poking holes in four of the rover’s six wheels.

This damage accelerated the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which the rover team had planned.

In response, the team altered the rover’s route to a milder terrain, bringing the rover farther south, towards the base of Mount Sharp.

After landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity fulfilled in its first year of operations its major science goal of determining whether Mars ever offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life.

Published on September 14, 2014

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