Mars Rover Curiosity Celebrates a Milestone


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This week marks one year since Mars rover Curiosity launched on the Mars Science Laboratory from Cape Canaveral on Earth. Today, NASA provided a few statistics on the "new" rover to celebrate the occasion.

Though Curiosity has only been on Mars for 16 weeks, the rover has beamed over 23,000 raw images back to Earth. Among the latest images are photos of a rock named "Rocknest 3," which the rover recently studied using its Chemistry and Camera laser. The short journey to Rocknest 3 was the first time in weeks the rover had driven across the surface of the Red planet, having been stationed at the "Rocknest" site to scoop up multiple samples of Martian soil. Following the Rocknest 3 observations, Curiosity drove to an area named "Point Lake" and used its mast camera to scan the horizon for possible routes and targets of study on which the rover team can use the rover's rock-sampling drill for the first time. The rover has now driven a total of 517 meters (1,696 feet) in total.

Meanwhile, researchers are patiently for confirmation of a "big" discovery they say could be "Earth-shaking." Though it's impossible to know, it could be that the rover's findings have something to do with it's primary mission, which is to find out whether Gale Crater ever had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. The discovery, whatever it is, comes from the first chemical analysis Curiosity performed on a Rocknest soil sample using its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. The rover is still carrying a fifth soil sample from the site, should it be needed to verify the exciting findings.

(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)