For around two months now, Mars rover Curiosity has been on a months-long journey to a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. There, NASA researchers hope the mountain's multiple exposed layers will shed light on the red planet's past.
Today, NASA announced that Curiosity has reached the first big milestone of its 5.3-mile drive. The rover has reached a planned waypoint scientists are calling "Panorama Point." From there, the rover can see exposed bedrock that researchers will be examining for several days.
Panorama Point is the first of five such waypoints planned for Curiosity's drive to Mount Sharp. The rover drove 464 feet on September 5, nearly reaching its temporary destination. That drive was yet another one-day driving record for the rover. Part of the long drive was navigated by Curiosity itself using its autonomous navigation systems, which were activated only weeks ago.
Curiosity team members are currently evaluating pictures taken by the rover to select various rocks to examine in the coming days. They intend to learn how Martian rocks change between the rover's first large research site and the base of Mount Sharp.
"We want to know how the rocks at Yellowknife Bay are related to what we'll see at Mount Sharp," said John Grotzinger, a Mars Science Laboratory project scientist. "That's what we intend to get from the waypoints between them. We'll use them to stitch together a timeline - which layers are older, which are younger."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)