Curiosity Mars Rover reaches long-awaited salt region - NASA Mars Exploration

Curiosity Mars Rover reaches long-awaited salt region – NASA Mars Exploration


The rover has arrived in a special region thought to have formed during the drying of the Martian climate.


After traveling through a narrow, sand-fringed pass this summer, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recently arrived at the “sulphate-bearing entity,” a long-sought region of Mount Sharp enriched with saline minerals.

Curious look at sand ridges and ‘bolivar’: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its mast camera, or mastcam, to capture this panorama of a hill nicknamed “Bolivar” and adjacent sand ridges on 23/14, the 3572nd. Mars Day or Sol of the Mission. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Scientists theorize that billions of years ago streams and ponds left the minerals behind as the water dried up. Assuming the hypothesis is correct, these minerals offer tantalizing clues as to how – and why – the Red Planet’s climate changed from being more Earth-like to the frozen desert it is today.

The minerals were discovered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter years before Curiosity landed in 2012, so scientists have long waited to see this terrain up close. Shortly after arrival, the rover discovered a variety of rock types and signs of water from the past, including popcorn-textured nodules and salty minerals such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt is one type), calcium sulfate (including gypsum), and sodium chloride (common table salt).

This grid shows all 36 holes drilled by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover with the drill at the end of its robotic arm.  The rover analyzes powdered rock from the drilling activities.  The images in the grid were captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of Curiosity's arm.

Curiosity’s 36 drill holes: This grid shows all 36 holes drilled by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover with the drill at the end of its robotic arm. The rover analyzes powdered rock from the drilling activities. The images in the grid were captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of Curiosity’s arm. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

They selected a rock nicknamed “Canaima” for the mission’s 36th drill sample, and the selection was no easy task. In addition to scientific considerations, the team also had to consider the rover hardware. Curiosity uses a percussion or rotary hammer drill bit at the end of its 2 meter long arm to pulverize rock samples for analysis. Worn brakes on the arm recently led the team to conclude that some harder rock might require too much hammering to drill safely.

“As before any drill, we brushed away the dust and then pierced the surface of Canaima with the drill. The lack of scratch marks or indentations was an indication that drilling could prove difficult,” said Curiosity’s new project manager, Kathya Zamora-Garcia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We paused to consider if that posed a risk to our arm. With the new drilling algorithm designed to minimize the use of percussion, we felt comfortable collecting a sample from Canaima. As it turned out, no drums were needed.”

Mission scientists look forward to analyzing portions of the sample using the Chemical and Minerology Instrument (Chemin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument (SAM).

Curiosity used its mast camera, or mastcam, to capture this image of its 36th successful drill hole on Mount Sharp at a rock called

Curiosity’s 36th drill hole at “Canaima”: Curiosity used its mast camera, or mastcam, to capture this image of its 36th successful drill hole on Mount Sharp at a rock called “Canaima.” The rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager captured the inset. The pulverized rock sample was collected on October 3, 2022, the 3,612. Martian Day of the Mission or Sol. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

The trip to the sulfate-rich region took Curiosity through treacherous terrain, including last August’s sandy Paraitepuy Pass, which weaves between towering hills. It took the rover more than a month to safely navigate and eventually reach its destination.

While sharp rocks can damage Curiosity’s wheels (which still have plenty of life left), sand can be just as dangerous, potentially causing the rover to become stuck if the wheels lose traction. Rover drivers must carefully navigate these areas.

The hills blocked Curiosity’s view of the sky, so the rover had to be carefully aimed, depending on where it could point its antennas on Earth and how long it could communicate with orbiters flying overhead.

After braving those risks, the team was rewarded with some of the mission’s most inspiring landscapes, which the rover captured with an Aug. 14 panorama using its mast camera, or mastcam.

“We got new images every morning and we were just amazed,” said Elena Amador-French of JPL, Curiosity’s science coordinator, who manages the collaboration between the science and engineering teams. “The sand ridges were beautiful. You see perfect little rover tracks on it. And the cliffs were beautiful – we got really close to the walls.”

But this new region comes with its own set of challenges: the rockier terrain, while scientifically compelling, makes it harder to find a spot where all six wheels of Curiosity rest on solid ground. If the rover isn’t stable, engineers don’t risk detaching the arm if it might hit the jagged rocks.

“As the scientific results get more interesting, Mars seems to be throwing more obstacles at us,” said Amador-French.

But the rover, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary on Mars, and its team are ready for this next chapter of their adventure.

More about curiosity

The Curiosity mission is being led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL is leading the mission on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Malin Space Science Systems of San Diego built and operates Mastcam.

For more information on Curiosity, see:
http://mars.nasa.gov/msl

News media contacts

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Karen Fox / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
301-286-6284 / 202-358-1501
karen.c.fox@nasa.gov / alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

#Curiosity #Mars #Rover #reaches #longawaited #salt #region #NASA #Mars #Exploration

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *