Take a trip to Mars with a new video from NASA! This animation shows a fly-over of Mount Sharp, the location the Curiosity rover is currently exploring. It also shows the path that Curiosity will take over the next few years as it wends its way up the mountain to learn more about the geology and history of the planet.
The map was created using data from an orbiting spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The MRO carries a suite of instruments including the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), and the Context Camera (CTX), which all contributed information that allowed the scientists to build a 3D model of this area of the surface of Mars.
Curiosity is currently in an area called the clay-bearing unit, named that as scientists believe there are plentiful clay minerals to be found in the area. This is significant as clay forms in the presence of water, so the minerals may indicate that there was surface water in this area at some point in history. Although Mars is known to have had surface water billions of years ago, it lost its water over time until it formed the dry, arid landscape there today.
Once Curiosity has made its way through the clay-bearing unit, it will move into the cliffs above. These cliffs have been named the sulfate unit, as orbiters gathering data from the planet’s surface have detected sulfate minerals in this region. The presence of sulfate indicates that ancient water could have become more acidic in this area. Scientists hope to compare the rocks found in the clay and sulfate-bearing areas to see how the environment and weather of Mars changed over millions of years.
Another point of interest to be explored is a gorge where an ancient river used to run, called the Gediz Vallis channel. This channel winds through the sulfate unit and orbiters have spotted boulders and debris which suggest they were carried there by a river when water on the surface was present. This area represents an entirely different period of time than the clay and sulfate regions, however, as it was formed long after the minerals were laid down. This gives the scientists an opportunity to study different periods of Martian history in this one geographical area.
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