After a treacherous journey, NASA’s Curiosity Mars probe has reached an area believed to have formed billions of years ago when the Red Planet’s waters disappeared.
This region of Mount Sharp Curiosity roams the Martian soil, rich in salty minerals that scientists believe were left behind when streams and lakes dried up. As such, this area could hold tantalizing clues about how it works.
NASA has identified salty minerals that enrich this area of Mount Sharp Mars Identification Vehicle Years before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012.
Related: Curiosity Rover: 15 amazing photos of Mars (Gallery)
When Curiosity finally got a closer look at Mount Sharp’s topography, the rover discovered a variety of rock types and previous signs of water, including popcorn-textured nodules, salty minerals like magnesium sulfate, calcium sulfate (including gypsum), and sodium chloride, which it is table salt. usual.
After calculating the pressures on the rotary drill at the end of the probe’s 2-meter-long arm used to crush rock samples for analysis, the Curiosity team selected a rock named “Canaima” to drill and assemble Flight 36 for the mission. drilling sample.
“As we’ve done before every exercise, we dusted ourselves off and then descended the cratered upper surface of Kanaima,” said Curiosity project manager Cathia Zamora Garcia. statement. “The lack of scratches or indentations was an indication that it might be difficult to dig.”
The team then paused to see if this posed a risk to Curiosity’s arm. Zamora Garcia explained that with a new drilling algorithm created to reduce the use of percussion, a hammering motion that drills use to penetrate hard surfaces, they decided to go ahead, no percussion was needed.
The team will now analyze portions of the sample collected from Canaima using Curiosity’s Chemical and Mineralogy instrument and analyze the sample in the Mars instrument.
Curiosity summer road trip
To reach the sulfate-rich region, the Curiosity rover spent August hiking through a narrow sandbar called Paraitepuy Pass. It took more than a month for Curiosity to safely navigate this treacherous terrain, shimmering among the towering hills. Although Paraitepuy Pass is mostly free of sharp rocks that could damage the rover’s wheels, sand can be dangerous for Curiosity. If its wheels lose traction, the rover could stall.
The rover drivers also had another challenge to consider: The Martian sky was blocked by the surrounding hills, meaning Curiosity had to be carefully positioned so that its antennas pointed toward Earth and could still be in contact with each other. her. Mars orbitals.
As the team carefully navigated this path, they were rewarded with some stunning images from Curiosity’s Mastcam, particularly a panoramic photo of the area taken on August 14.
“We’re going to get new images every morning and we’re going to be in awe,” Elena Amador French, Curiosity’s science operations coordinator, who manages the collaboration between the science and engineering teams, said in the statement. “The sandhills were great. You can see perfect little ATV parts in them. And the slopes were beautiful – we got really close to the walls.”
Despite clearing Paraitepuy Pass, Curiosity has a tough road ahead of it. This salty region comes with its own challenges – in particular, the rover’s operations team will have to account for rocky terrain that makes it difficult to place all six of Curiosity’s wheels on firm ground.
If Curiosity isn’t stable, operators won’t risk opening the drill boom if it hits the thick rock.
“The more important the scientific findings, the more obstacles Mars throws up against us,” said Amador French.
Curiosity will continue to explore this region, proving that after 10 years on Mars, the rover still has a lot of ground to cover.
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