NASA's latest pictures from Mars are fascinating — showing where the Curiosity rover is headed next
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Curiosity
Mars roverhas started its 1.6-kilometre summer road trip to explore the Red Planet’s surface.
- It’s going around a vast patch of sand where it could potentially get stuck.
- After this trek, the Mars Curiosity rover will begin to climb up the Martian mountain dubbed Mount Sharp to explore its ‘sulfate-bearing unit’.
Inaugurating the road trip, the rover has shared a fascinating image of where it’s headed next. The aim to avoid a vast patch of sand where the rover could potentially get stuck before it explores the next part of the Martian mountain called Mount Sharp.
Stitched together from 116 images, the image above shows the path that the Curiosity Mars rover will take in the summer of 2020.
The rover currently on a mission to analyse the sediments of Mount Sharp, which lies on the floor of the Gale Crater to unravel how climate change took a toll on the Red Planet.
Each sedimentary layer on the 5-kilometre-tall mountain helps tells the story of how Mars went from being an Earth-like planet — with lakes, streams and a thick atmosphere — to being the frozen desert that we see today.
Rover’s mission to investigate Mars' climate history
Travelling between 25 to 100 metres per hour, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is done investigating the lower side of the mountain, what scientists call the ‘ clay-bearing unit — seen at the centre of the rover’s newest panorama.
The clay is an indicator that there was once a significant amount of water in the Gale Crater. It reveals the possibility it may have been home to an ancient lake on Mars. NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured the above view from the Greenheugh Pediment on April 9, earlier this year, by stitching together 28 images. It’s a slope with a sandstone cap, which can be seen in the foreground.
The Greenheugh Pediment extends across both the clay unit and the sulfate unit — Curiosity’s next stop that could shed some more light on how climate change affected Mars nearly 3 million years ago.
But before it can get there, Curiosity needs to travel 1.6 kilometres to avoid a vast patch of sand where the rover could potentially get stuck, according to NASA.
Autonomous driving on Mars
Some of the rover’s navigation over the summer will be done using its automated driving abilities. They enable Curiosity to find the safest path forward all on its own, especially when images of the terrain are lacking.
"Curiosity can't drive entirely without humans in the loop," said Matt Gildner, lead rover driver at JPL. "But it does have the ability to make simple decisions along the way to avoid large rocks or risky terrain. It stops if it doesn't have enough information to complete a drive on its own."
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