Images of knobbly rocks and rounded hills are delighting scientists as NASA’s Curiosity rover climbs Mount Sharp, a 5-mile-tall (8-kilometre-tall) mountain within the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometre-wide) basin of Mars’ Gale Crater. The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, highlights those features in a panorama (click on image to zoom in) captured on 3 July 2021 (the 3,167th Martian day, or sol, of the mission).
This location is particularly exciting: Spacecraft orbiting Mars show that Curiosity is now somewhere between a region enriched with clay minerals and one dominated by salty minerals called sulphates. The mountain’s layers in this area may reveal how the ancient environment within Gale Crater dried up over time. Similar changes are seen across the planet, and studying this region up close has been a major long-term goal for the mission.
“The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened,” said Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.