The Mars Rover Curiosity team stationed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had a big year in 2012. Aside from nailing the rover's landing, the researchers kept Mars hours for months while testing Curiosity's capabilities. So, during the holidays the team got a much-deserved break, leaving the rover sitting in an area named "Yellowknife Bay." The area is flatter and ligher-toned than the terrain the rover crossed during its first few months on Mars.
Though Curiosity managed to take plenty of photos over the break, the rover is now back in full action. It resumed driving around Yellowknife Bay on January 3 and pulled up to a rock feature NASA has named "Snake River." The feature is a "thin curving line of darker rock cutting through flatter rocks and jutting above the sand."
"It's one piece of the puzzle," said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist. "It has a crosscutting relationship to the surrounding rock and appears to have formed after the deposition of the layer that it transects."
Curiosity's latest jaunt took it 3 meters (about 10 feet), bringing the rover's total driving distance on the red planet to 702 meters (2,303 feet). The rover is currently preparing to use its hammering drill for the first time. The drill will powder an interior sample of rock and collect if for analysis by Curiosity's other instruments.
"We had no surprises over the holidays," said Richard Cook, the mission's project manager. "Now, Curiosity is back on the move. The area the rover is in looks good for our first drilling target."