Mars Rover Curiosity to Examine Rocks in the KimberleyBy: Sean Patterson - March 24, 2014
NASA today revealed that Mars rover Curiosity will soon make a short stop to examine some more Martian rocks. The rover will examine an area of interest to researchers due to its different intersecting rock textures.
“The orbital images didn’t tell us what those rocks are, but now that Curiosity is getting closer, we’re seeing a preview,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), “The contrasting textures and durabilities of sandstones in this area are fascinating. While superficially similar, the rocks likely formed and evolved quite differently from each other.”
Curiosity is now just 86 meters from the area, which has been named “the Kimberley” after a region of the same name in Australia. The sandstone rocks in the region are different from the mudstone that the rover has so far examined in its journey. The rover’s drill may even be used to collect rock power samples in the area.
Curiosity is currently on a months-long journey to the base of a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. There the rover research team hopes to gather data on the different layers of martian rock and soil exposed a the base of the mountain.
Along the way Curiosity has been stopping at planned waypoints on its route to perform extra scientific observations. The stop in the Kimberly is one of these planned diversions, as was a stop back in September 2013 at a location named “Darwin,” where the rover examined sandstone pebbles that may have been formed by flowing water.
More recently the Curiosity team has been with a few technical hurdles encountered during the rover’s research. Shortly before the holiday season the rover experienced an unexpected electrical failure. Just last month the rover surmounted a small hill to reach an area that researchers hoped would save the rover’s wheels from accelerating wear and tear that has been observed in recent weeks.
“The wheel damage rate appears to have leveled off, thanks to a combination of route selection and careful driving,” said Richard Rainen, Curiosity mechanical engineering team leader at JPL. “We’re optimistic that we’re doing OK now, though we know there will be challenging terrain to cross in the future.”
Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS