With the Curiosity rover on Mars and sending back pictures daily of the Red Planet’s terrain, NASA scientists are turning their focus to taking a detour to check out what they call a “cool” geographic spot.
The Curiosity rover is headed to its destination of Mount Sharp where it will be looking for traces of water, but first it will take off in the opposite direction to a spot the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory calls Glenelg, the AFP reported. NASA officials believe the geologically rich site is the intersection of three different kinds of terrain, an area about 1,640 feet from where the scientists landed the Curiosity rover on Mars.
Glenelg — named as a palindrome because the Curiosity rover will travel back in the same direction again to visit Mount Sharp — is the first trip of moderate length for the craft. The piece of land that the Curiosity rover is exploring on Mars is believed by scientists to be a type of bedrock that could be suitable for future drilling.
NASA scientists already reported that the Curiosity rover found temperatures on Mars just above freezing in what is the first measurement of the temperature there in more than 30 years.
Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger had a simple explanation as to why it was worth the risk to send the Curiosity rover on such a distance.
“It looks cool,” he said.
The Curiosity rover will take between three weeks and two months to arrive at Glenelg, and it will spend about a month there.
The Curiosity rover will spend the rest of the year on Mars monitoring the weather, collecting radiation data, and analyzing samples of rocks and soil, CNET reported.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed on Mars on August 6.