RocketSTEM –27 March 2019
FL – NASA’s Curiosity rover captured a gorgeous 360 degree color panorama of ‘Vera
Rubin Ridge’ with arm raised high showing where she spent more than a year
exploring and drilling into Mars at the base Mount Sharp and where she will spend the forthcoming year in her
ongoing quest to search for signs of life.
The car sized
rover has now recently moved on from Vera Rubin Ridge to her new Red Planet home and next
area of investigation – previously dubbed the ‘clay-bearing unit’ and now renamed
The immense, high
resolution ‘Rock Hall’ panorama was created from raw images taken on Dec. 19,
2018 (Sol 2265) by the robots color Mast Camera (Mastcam).
360 pano spans a breathtaking view across the Martian surface inside the floor
of Gale Crater showing the rover’s last drill location at ‘Rock Hall’ on Vera
Rubin Ridge as well as ‘Glen Torridon’ – the clay
region she will spend the next year exploring.
scene combines 122 images taken with Mastcam’s left-eye camera and was released by the rovers handlers.
Hall counts as Curiosity’s 19th drill site in Gale Crater.
‘Glen Torridon’ sits in a trough just south of the ridge. Clay minerals in this
unit may hold more clues about the ancient lakes that helped form the lower
levels on Mount Sharp.
white balancing so as to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under
daytime lighting conditions on Earth.
The rover reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 and has been
slowly but steadily climbing ever since to carefully examine the sedimentary
layers laid down over billions of years.
Furthermore the team released a 360 degree YouTube so the public
can explore the region in detail here:
Video Caption: NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Departs Vera Rubin
Ridge (360 View): The rover took a
360-degree panorama of the area depicting its last drill hole on the ridge (at
a location called “Rock Hall”). Not all browsers support viewing
360 videos. YouTube supports their playback on computers using Chrome, Firefox,
Internet Explorer, and Opera browsers. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiosity is currently exploring the lower sedimentary
layers of Mount Sharp which tower over 3 miles (5.5 km) into the Martian sky and
found that it supported a habitable zone billions of years ago.
encircling dust storm after 15 exciting years of exploration, Curiosity is NASA’s
only functioning rover operating on the Red Planet.
“Even though the rover has left the ridge, Curiosity’s team is
still piecing together the story of its formation. While there have been a
number of clues so far, none fully explains why the ridge has resisted erosion
compared with the bedrock around it. But the rover’s investigation did find
that the rocks of the ridge formed as sediment settled in an ancient lake,
similar to rock layers below the ridge.
“We’ve had our fair share of surprises,” said
Curiosity science team member Abigail Fraeman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re leaving with a different
perspective of the ridge than what we had before.”
A NASA orbiter studying the ridge had previously identified a
strong signal from hematite, an iron-rich mineral that often forms in water.
Curiosity confirmed the presence of hematite, along with other signs of ancient
water, like crystals. These signs appeared in patches,
leading the team to suspect that over time groundwater affected certain parts
of the ridge differently than others. Another discovery was that the hematite
signatures Curiosity mapped didn’t always match the view from space.
“The whole traverse is helping us understand all the
factors that influence how our orbiters see Mars,” Fraeman said.
“Looking up close with a rover allowed us to find a lot more of these hematite
signatures. It shows how orbiter and rover science complement one
The ridge has also served as the backdrop to a roller-coaster
year: Curiosity’s drill returned to action, only to be stymied
by surprisingly hard rocks. Nevertheless, the team managed to get samples from
the three major rock types of the ridge. To get around a memory issue,
engineers also swapped the rover’s computers (the spacecraft
was designed with two so that it can continue operations if one experiences a
glitch). While the issue is still being diagnosed, operations have continued
with little impact on the mission.
The rover’s new home, Glen Torridon, is in a trough between Vera
Rubin Ridge and the rest of the mountain. This region had been called the
clay-bearing unit because orbiter data show that the rocks there contain
phyllosilicates — clay minerals that form in water and that could tell
scientists more about the ancient lakes that were present in Gale Crater off
and on throughout its early history.
“In addition to indicating a previously wet environment,
clay minerals are known to trap and preserve organic molecules,” said
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. “That makes this area
especially promising, and the team is already surveying the area for its next
Curiosity has found both clay minerals and organic molecules in
many of the rocks it has drilled since landing in 2012. Organic molecules are
the chemical building blocks of life. If both water and organic molecules were
present when the rocks formed, the clay-bearing unit may be another example of
a habitable environment on ancient Mars — a place capable of supporting life,
if it ever existed.
|Curiosity Traverse Map as of Sol 2354. Credit: NASA|
As of today, Sol 2359, Mar. 27, 2019 Curiosity has driven over
12.66 miles (20.38) kilometers) since its August 2012 landing inside Gale Crater
from the landing site to Mount Sharp and taken over 562,500 amazing
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