The NASA rover moved eight years ago, on August 5, 2012, and will soon be joined by a second rover, Perseverance.
NASA’s curiosity March rover has seen a lot since August 5, 2012, when it first set its wheels in the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) Gale Crater pool. Its mission: to study whether Mars had water, chemical building blocks and energy sources that may have supported microbial life billions of years ago.
Curiosity has since traveled more than 230 miles (23 kilometers), drilled 26 rock samples and scooped six soil samples along the way, as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life. Studying structures and compositions in ancient rock strata helps scientists summarize how the Martian climate changed over time and lost its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.
The Curiosity mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, and involves nearly 500 researchers from the United States and other countries around the world. Here are eight postcards that rover has sent from Mars. Most of the panoramas were taken by the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, led by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.
A dusty scientist
Curiosity took this selfie on June 20, 2018 (Solar 2082) as a global dust storm that orbited Mars, filtered sunlight and obscured the view. Rover drills rocks to analyze their composition and then takes a selfie to capture the landscape from which each sample was taken (this is called “Duluth”). Selfies are created by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of the rover’s robot arm. If you are wondering why you can not see the arm in this photo, you can read more about how selfies are taken here.
Mount Sharp Towers above
Looking up from Curiosity’s current location, you are greeted with this dramatic view of Mount Sharp, the 30 km high (5 km high) peak that Curiosity explores. This portrait consists of 44 individual images sewn together, and was taken by Mastcam on October 13, 2019 (Sol 2555).
Curiosity will never venture towards the top of the mountain; instead, it is to explore the many layers that are further down. Each has a different story to tell about how Mars, which was once like Earth (warmer and wetter), changed over time. Rover it reaches the next warehouse later this year.
“I love this picture because it tells two stories – one about the mission and one about Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project researcher at JPL. “The crater rim and the floor where we started eight years ago are peeking in from the left, while scattered in front of us is the future when curiosity climbs higher on the mountain.”
You are here
Shot near Mount Sharp’s base on March 24, 2014 (Sun 580), this panorama shows just how far Curiosity has traveled in just over six years. The arrow indicates the rover’s location today, about 3 1/2 miles away (about 5 1/2 miles).
“I can not help but think of the corresponding distance we have traveled in our understanding of Mars’ habitable past since we took this picture,” said Abigail Fraeman of JPL, Curiosity’s Deputy Project Researcher.
Curiosity project researcher Ashwin Vasavada gives a descriptive tour of the Mars rover’s view in Gale Krater. The white-balanced scene looks back on the journey so far.
You were there
“I still can’t get over how incredibly clear the sky was when we took this, and how we could see miles and miles and miles,” Fraeman said of this 2018 panorama, which shows the floor of the Gale Crater seen from higher up the mountain, on a place called Vera Rubin Ridge. “How spectacular would the edge of Gale Crater have looked to an astronaut if they were standing on Mount Sharp that day?”
Vasavada told about this video tour on the trip up the mountain.
Martian Spaghetti Western
Parts of the Martian Desert are similar to the southwestern United States. This wide panorama, taken by Mastcam on December 19, 2019 (Sun 2620), contains 130 images that are joined together. In the foreground to the right is “Western Butte”; the slope with a crisp hat in the background is the “Greenheugh pediment”, which curiosity rose in March 2020 for a sneak peek of terrain researchers hoping to investigate later in the mission.
A sea of dunes
This place, part of the “Namib Dune,” shows two different sized ripples that the wind sculpted in the sand. Curiosity discovered that the larger type, located about 3 meters apart, is found on Mars only because of its thin atmosphere. The panorama was taken on December 13, 2015 (Sol 1192).
Staring at the clouds
Curiosity sometimes studies clouds to learn more about the Martian atmosphere. There is vanishingly little water in the Martian air, which is 1% as dense as the earth’s air, but sometimes water-ice clouds form. The clouds shown here, which are probably water ice, were captured approximately 370 km above the surface on 17 May 2019 (Sun 2410) using the rover’s black and white navigation cameras.
Curiosity’s Hole Story
These 26 holes represent each of the powdered rock samples that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has collected with its robotic arm in early July 2020. A map at the top left shows where the holes were drilled on rover’s route, along with where it scooped six samples. land for analysis.