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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover completes seven years on the red planet: Here’s what it has learnt

NASA's Curiosity rover has completed seven years on Mars and it has shared a 360-degree view of the Teal Ridge alongside a throwback video of its landing on the red planet.

By: Tech Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 9, 2019 11:31:14 am
mars, curiosity rover, nasa, nasa curiosity rover, curiosity rover mars, curiosity rover mars, nasa mars curiosity rover seven years, teal ridge, 360 degree view mars NASA’s Curiosity rover completes seven years on Mars and shares a 360-degree view of Teal Ridge. (Image source: NASA)

It’s been seven years since NASA’s Curiosity rover first touched the surface of the Mars. It has traveled a total of 21 kilometres distance and climbed 368 metres to its current location to find that the conditions on ancient Mars were favourable to support microbial life, among other things.

As Curiosity completed seven years on the red planet, its Twitter handle shared a video of its soft-landing inside the Gale Crater on the red planet on August 5, 2012. The rover was blasted off on Atlas V 541 on November 26, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It also shared a 360-degree view of the Teal Ridge, an area which shows signs of ancient water bodies. Curiosity’s video also shows the Upper Mount Sharp, Vera Rubin Ridge, and the rim of the Gale Crater on Mars.  The crater is believed to be a dry lake on Mars and there are signs that it had water in the past, which is why this was also chosen as the landing site for Curiosity.

The panorama image was captured on Mars by the Mast Camera, or Mastcam, on NASA’s Curiosity rover on June 18, 2019. Take a look:

As of now, the Curiosity is halfway through a region called “clay-bearing unit” on the side of the Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater. The rover has drilled 22 samples from the Martian surface and it has a few more years before its nuclear power system degrades, NASA said. After that, Curiosity will budget its power to keep studying Mars.

As part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Mission, the Curiosity found that billions of years ago, there were streams and lakes within the crater it landed. The water altered the sediment deposited within the lakes, leaving behind lots of clay minerals in the region. A few years before Curiosity was launched, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected that clay signal first from space.

“This area is one of the reasons we came to Gale Crater,” said Kristen Bennett of the US Geological Survey, one of the co-leads for Curiosity’s clay-unit campaign. “We’ve been studying orbiter images of this area for 10 years, and we’re finally able to take a look up close.”

mars, curiosity rover, nasa, nasa curiosity rover, curiosity rover mars, curiosity rover mars, nasa mars curiosity rover seven years, teal ridge, 360 degree view mars This mosaic of images shows layers of ancient sediment on a boulder-sized rock called “Strathdon,” as seen by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of the robotic arm on NASA’s Curiosity rover. (Image source: NASA)

Earlier, the Curiosity rover took detailed images of “Strathdon,” a rock made of dozens of sediment layers that have hardened into a brittle, wavy heap. It showed wavy layers in the rock which is nothing like the thin, flat layers associated with lake sediments Curiosity has studied in the region.

These features suggest a more dynamic environment in the area giving birth to speculations that wind, flowing water or both could have shaped this area.

Both Teal Ridge and Strathdon represent changes in the landscape. “We’re seeing an evolution in the ancient lake environment recorded in these rocks,” said campaign’s other co-lead, Valerie Kristen Fox of Caltech.

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“It wasn’t just a static lake. It’s helping us move from a simplistic view of Mars going from wet to dry. Instead of a linear process, the history of water was more complicated,” she added.

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