We now have a bird’s-eye view of the Curiosity rover and its most recent Martian explorations.
Last month, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) acquired a stunning photograph of Curiosity climbing Mont Mercou, a landform on the slopes of Mars’ 3.4-mile-high (5.5-kilometer) Mount Sharp.
The image was captured on April 18 by MRO’s High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument, which can detect details as tiny as a coffee table on Mars’ surface. According to the HiRISE team’s image description, the car-sized Curiosity is clearly visible, even though MRO was flying 167.5 miles (269.4 kilometers) above the rover at the time.
Curiosity arrived at the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer) Gale Crater in August 2012, with the goal of determining if the region may have ever hosted microbial life. The answer is yes; the six-wheeled robot’s findings suggest that Gale housed a potentially livable lake-and-stream system over extended periods of time in the distant past.
Curiosity arrived in the slopes of Mount Sharp, which climbs far into the Martian sky from Gale’s core, in September 2014. Since then, the rover has been climbing the mountain, looking for clues about Mars’ long-ago transformation from a relatively warm and wet environment to the frigid desert planet that it is today.
MRO and other orbiters’ observations demonstrate that this transition is documented in the rock as a change from clay-bearing material to layers with a lot of salt sulfates. “So that’s where we’re heading,” Curiosity deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said in a video update posted on Thursday (May 20).