Mars’s pluckiest rover, Curiosity, has made it up a steep, sandy slope to an area previously thought to be practically inaccessible and is enjoying the view.
For the past month, the rover has been wending its way up the path towards an area called the Greenheugh pediment. NASA researchers had wanted to explore this particular area for a long time, as it could hold clues to the geology of the surrounding crater, but they originally thought that it would be impossible to access it without months or even years of travel. However, they managed to identify a path that was accessible to the rover after consultation with surface properties scientists.
The route involved Curiosity climbing up slopes of 30 degrees or more, which is the steepest that the rover has ever attempted. While on its journey, Curiosity stopped to collect some data with its ChemCam instrument to investigate two bedrock targets, “Corriecravie” and “Shannochie”. By analyzing the rocks along the ascent to the Greenheugh pediment, the scientists can see how their composition changes with elevation.
Now, Curiosity has made it to the top of the slope and viewed an entirely new area of the Gale Crater. The rover is currently investigating two targets, “Galloway Hills,” which is a smooth, flat area of sandstone that needs to cleared of dust using the rover’s Dust Removal Tool before measurements are made, and “Ardwell Bay,” which is a more resistant rock than the surrounding sandstone.
With expansive views available from the Greenheugh pediment, we may have another high-resolution panorama of the Martian surface to look forward to. The Curiosity scientists have confirmed that they will soon be creating a stereo mosaic of the view using the rover’s high-definition Navcam which can capture images in color.
“Now that we do not have a steep cliff in our front windshield, the skies stretch largely unencumbered above and around us,” Curiosity scientists wrote in a blog post. “Navcam will take a 360-degree look around for dust devils on two different sols, and will acquire movies looking for clouds both in the afternoon and early morning. Mastcam and Navcam will assess the dustiness of the atmosphere by gazing across Gale crater from our great viewpoint.”