Curiosity Rover Spots Something Different On Mars

Curiosity is finally back to work after a month of inactivity and has just found out something unexpected about its drill target, 'Inverness.'

Images of Curiosity's current drill target on Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity is finally back to work after a month of inactivity and has just found out something unexpected about its drill target, 'Inverness.'

After taking some time off to deal with a technical issue, NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover is back to work and already has something interesting to show us.

In mid-September, the six-wheeled robot experienced a data transmission problem that eventually prompted the Curiosity team to swap its active computer with the one originally used by the rover when it first landed on Mars in 2012.

Two weeks ago, the Curiosity rover resumed operations and even beamed back a few photos from its current location on the red planet, the first snapshots taken since the robot switched “brains” on October 4, the Inquisitr reported at the time.

Now, the car-sized robot is getting ready for some serious science and has recently started scoping out its “workspace” — the area where the rover was drilling before it was sidelined by the computer glitch — in order to plan its next move.

Prior to the month-long hiatus from science operations, Curiosity had started a drill campaign at “Inverness” — a slab of rock found in the center of its workspace — and was in the midst of boring into the martian block to retrieve a drilled sample for study.

With the break from work now over, the rover has set its sights back on Inverness and has spotted something unexpected, reports CNet.

“It has been over a month since we last looked at the ‘workspace,’ the region in front of the rover that the arm can reach, and there were some surprises in store for us!” Curiosity team member Melissa Rice wrote in a mission update on the Mars Science Laboratory webpage.

Before Curiosity temporarily suspended science operations, Inverness looked like a brown patch of rock on the martian terrain, covered in red dust. Photographed above by the rover’s Mastcam on September 14, the drill target was adorned with gray-colored tailings leftover from the interrupted drilling session.

In a new photo taken by the same instrument on board the Curiosity rover, the area has been wiped clean by the martian wind and now looks a lot different, as you can see below.

Imaged by the Mastcam a month later, on October 25, Inverness has greatly changed its appearance in the time that Curiosity was inactive.

“In the new image above, however, those tailings are now gone — and so is a lot of the dark brown soil and reddish dust,” Rice wrote on October 29.

“While Curiosity has been sitting still, the winds have been moving, sweeping the workspace clean.”

The team is anxious to start investigating the area now that it has been swept clean by the martian winds, which have revealed intriguing features that had previously gone unnoticed.

“Later this week we plan to take advantage of this freshly-scrubbed surface by taking close-up MAHLI images of fine details in the rock, including the light-toned veins crisscrossing the outcrop that are peppered with interesting dark inclusions,” stated Rice.

MAHLI is another camera mounted on the Curiosity rover, which is equipped with three imaging instruments.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, Mars is headed for a particularly windy period that could last for up to three months. The martian windy season could bring on other important changes as well.

For instance, the wind might help clean off the dust from the Opportunity rover — NASA’s other Mars robot — and finally allow the stranded rover to recharge its solar panels and get back in touch with Earth after five months of silence.