Curiosity Mars rover tracks
April 17, 2014

Images Of Curiosity Captured As Mars Rover Scientists Evaluate Possible Dig Site

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The Curiosity science team is analyzing the rock layer surrounding the base of a 16-foot-high butte known as “Mount Remarkable” to determine whether or not the region is a good candidate for investigation using tools on the robotic arm on the Mars rover, NASA announced Wednesday.

The rock layer surrounding the base of Mount Remarkable has been dubbed “the middle unit” by scientists because of its location between rocks that form buttes in the area and lower-lying rocks which show a pattern of striations, NASA officials explained. Depending upon a close-up examination of the rock and its chemical composition, a site in the region could become the third rock from which samples are obtained using Curiosity’s drill.

“The rover carries laboratory instruments to analyze rock powder collected by the drill,” the agency said. “The mission's first two drilled samples, in an area called Yellowknife Bay near Curiosity's landing site, yielded evidence last year for an ancient lakebed environment with available energy and ingredients favorable for microbial life.”

Curiosity’s current location is known as “the Kimberley,” and it contains several different types of rocks that are exposed in a nearby region. While here, and later on at the slopes of Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater, the science team plans to use the rover’s instruments to discover more about the planet’s past habitability and changes to its environment.

While the rover continues its mission, it is also being observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera. In fact, NASA has released recently-snapped HiRISE images of Curiosity as it works in and around the Kimberely, and rover-eye photos of Mount Remarkable and its surroundings obtained by Curiosity's Navigation Camera (Navcam) instrument.

The first set of images shows the rover close to the largest butte in the lower left quadrant, at approximately a two o’clock position in relation to the butte. It appears to be bright blue in the picture’s exaggerated colors. According to NASA, the Kimberley is believed to be a potential gold mine for the mission, as organic material that could be uncovered in this region could well be an indicator that there had once been life on Mars.

The second set of images combines multiple images taken on April 11, the 597th Martian day of Curiosity’s work on the Red Planet, to show a mosaic of the area. On that day, the rover traveled 90.2 feet, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed it at the location from which is captures the panorama.

Curiosity launched on November 26, 2011 and landed at 1:32 am EDT on August 6, 2012. Its mission as part of the NASA Mars Exploration Program is to conduct a long-term robotic exploration of the planet, and specifically to determine if the environment there was ever capable of supporting microbial life. Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory Project are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.