As the Curiosity rover begins its ascent of a steep ridge on the red planet, NASA has unveiled images of its journey.
The photographs show the mountainous Mars landscape as Curiosity makes the 20 story elevation change up ‘Vera Rubin Ridge.’
The steep iron-oxide-bearing rock formation is about 213 feet (65 meters) tall and piqued the interest of scientists even prior to the rover’s landing in 2012.
This view of the ridge from the ChemCam instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows sedimentary layers and fracture-filling mineral deposits. ChemCam’s telescopic Remote Micro-Imager took the 10 component images of this scene on July 3 from a distance of about 377 feet
Curiosity’s top speed is 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) per second.
It’s the fourth rover to visit Mars, and took around seven minutes to land on the red planet.
The rover is fitted with 17 cameras, and weighs about the same as a Mini Cooper at about 2,000lb (900kg).
Scientists considered 60 different possible landing sites before deciding to set Curiosity down in Gale Crater.
‘We’re on the climb now, driving up a route where we can access the layers we’ve studied from below,’ said Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science-team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The Vera Rubin Ridge – named after pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin – could give insight into the planets environment and potential for human habitability.
Previous explorations have already shown an ancient lake likely existed in this region of Mars, which is prominently on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp.
The ridge – also called ‘Hematite Ridge’ – has proven strong against erosion and maintained its structure better than less-steep areas of the below mountain.
‘As we skirted around the base of the ridge this summer, we had the opportunity to observe the large vertical exposure of rock layers that make up the bottom part of the ridge,’ said Fraeman, who organized the rover’s ridge campaign.
‘Vera Rubin Ridge,’ a favored destination for NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover even before the rover landed in 2012, rises near the rover nearly five years later in this panorama from Curiosity’s Mastcam. The scene combines 23 images taken with the Mastcam’s right-eye camera on June 22
As Mars Curiosity rover begins its ascent of a steep ridge on the red planet, NASA has unveiled images of its journey. Researchers used the Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover to gain this detailed view of layers in ‘Vera Rubin Ridge’ from just below the ridge. The scene combines 70 images taken with the Mastcam’s right-eye on August 13
‘But even though steep cliffs are great for exposing the stratifications, they’re not so good for driving up.’
For the climb, Curiosity is traveling more than a third of a mile.
The rover began the trek in early September.
Prior to the mission, it already gained a total of about 980 feet (about 300 meters) in elevation in drives totaling 10.76 miles (17.32 kilometers) from its landing site to the base of the ridge.
Along the way, Curiosity is capturing stunning photos of the red planet, showing its mountains as well as finer layering with an extensive network of bright veins that vary in size and length.
The Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this view of ‘Vera Rubin Ridge’ about two weeks before the rover starting to ascend this steep ridge on lower Mount Sharp. Prior to the mission, Curiosity already gained a total of 980 feet (about 300 meters) in elevation in drives totaling 10.76 miles (17.32 kilometers) from its landing site to the base of the ridge
‘Now we’ll have a chance to examine the layers up close as the rover climbs,’ Fraeman said of the veins, which had previously been spotted though Curiosity’s telephoto observations of the ridge from just beneath it
‘Now we’ll have a chance to examine the layers up close as the rover climbs,’ Fraeman said of the veins, which had previously been spotted though Curiosity’s telephoto observations of the ridge from just beneath it.
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL said: ‘Using data from orbiters and our own approach imaging, the team has chosen places to pause for more extensive studies on the way up, such as where the rock layers show changes in appearance or composition.’
He added, ‘But the campaign plan will evolve as we examine the rocks in detail. As always, it’s a mix of planning and discovery.’
Orbital spectrometer observations have shown the iron-oxide mineral hematite is more present at the top of the ridge than other location on Mount Sharp.
This includes locations where Curiosity has already discovered hematite and has inspired researchers to gain more insight as to why the ridge resists erosion.
They are also interested in why hematite is so concentrated on the top of the ridge and if these two factors are related.
This view of Vera Rubin Ridge from the ChemCam instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows sedimentary layers, mineral veins and effects of wind erosion. ChemCam’s telescopic Remote Micro-Imager took the 10 component images of this scene on August 24 from about 141 feet away
‘The team is excited to be exploring Vera Rubin Ridge, as this hematite ridge has been a go-to target for Curiosity ever since Gale Crater was selected as the landing site,’ said Michael Meyer, lead scientist of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s Washington headquarters.
NASA researchers believe learning more about the ridge, its resistance to erosion, and strong presence of hematite can give insight into the ancient conditions of the area and Mars as a whole.
The Vera Rubin Ridge as well as the layers above it contain clay and sulfate minerals which tell information about its history and could provide insight on the habitability of ancient Mars.