NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover turns to keep away from harmful ‘gator-back’ rocks (images)


Certainly one of NASA’s intrepid Mars rovers unexpectedly modified its course to keep away from hazardous “gator-back” terrain.

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The Curiosity rover, which is exploring Mount Sharp, was climbing the southern aspect of a mild slope known as “Greenheugh Pediment” for many of March, the place it encountered largely rubbly sandstone. On March 18, the rover’s crew on Earth noticed sudden terrain affected by wind-sharpened rocks, known as ventifacts. In response, the drivers determined to show the robotic explorer round, in line with a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, which leads the mission. 

Earlier in its mission on Mars, Curiosity had encountered comparable ventifacts that broken the rover’s wheels. Nonetheless, the rover’s current rocky images confirmed extra ventifacts than the crew has seen in Curiosity’s practically 10 years on the Pink Planet, in line with the assertion. 

Associated: Rugged Mars has taken big bites out of the Curiosity rover’s wheels (photos)

Curiosity noticed “gator-backed” terrain on its path throughout “Greenheugh Pediment,” inflicting mission scientists to show the rover round.  (Picture credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Ventifacts are composed of sandstone, which is the toughest sort of rock Curiosity has encountered on Mars since touchdown in Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. Given the options’ scale-like look, scientists have nicknamed ventifacts “gator-back” terrain. 

Because the rover first encountered the sort of hazardous terrain, the mission’s crew has labored to cut back wheel put on and relied on orbital imagery to chart safer routes for the rover to forestall it from driving over harmful terrain. Nonetheless, as Curiosity approached the southern aspect of Greenheugh Pediment — a 1.2 mile-wide (2 kilometer-wide) sloping plain close to the bottom of Mount Sharp — it noticed the rocky terrain up-close, revealing to mission engineers simply how hazardous the ventifacts are. 

“It was apparent from Curiosity’s images that this could not be good for our wheels,” Megan Lin, Curiosity mission supervisor from JPL, mentioned within the assertion. “It could be sluggish going, and we would not have been capable of implement rover-driving greatest practices.”

Whereas the gator-back rocks would not have been impassable, traversing the terrain would have elevated put on and tear on the wheels, and threatened their longevity. Subsequently, the crew is charting a brand new course up Mount Sharp, the three.4-mile-tall (5.5-kilometer-tall) mountain that Curiosity has been ascending since 2014.

Curiosity noticed “gator-backed” terrain on its path throughout “Greenheugh Pediment,” inflicting mission scientists to show the rover round.   (Picture credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Scientists had initially pointed the rover towards Greenheugh Pediment to raised perceive how the standalone function fashioned. This space can be close to Gediz Vallis Ridge, which planetary scientists consider was created by particles flowing down the mountain. Subsequently, exploring the difficult rocks may need revealed new clues about materials that originated on the mountain’s uppermost reaches. 

“From a distance, we are able to see car-sized boulders that had been transported down from greater ranges of Mount Sharp — possibly by water comparatively late in Mars’ moist period,” Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s mission scientist at JPL, mentioned within the assertion. “We do not actually know what they’re, so we needed to see them up shut.”

As an alternative, Curiosity will now climb down from the pediment, again to a safer space it has beforehand explored — a transition zone between clay-rich terrain and one with greater quantities of salt minerals known as sulfates. This space helps scientists higher perceive Mars’ historical previous, for the reason that clay minerals would have fashioned when the mountain was wetter, whereas the salts would have fashioned because the planet’s local weather dried out over time, in line with the assertion. 

“It was actually cool to see rocks that preserved a time when lakes had been drying up and being changed by streams and dry sand dunes,” Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy mission scientist at JPL, mentioned within the assertion. “I am actually curious to see what we discover as we proceed to climb on this alternate route.”

Comply with Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Comply with us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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