It’s been a while since we last heard from the Curiosity rover on Mars. While the news may have been scarce, the Martian explorer has been hard at work trying to wrap up its drilling campaign at its current location on the red planet.
Over the past couple of months, the NASA’s car-sized robot has been drilling away at the complex mosaic of rock that is Vera Rubin Ridge. The ridge is located on the slopes of Mount Sharp – a 3.4-mile-high mountain rising in the middle of the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater – and has been the rover’s home for more than a year.
In fact, Curiosity has been exploring the ridge since September of 2017, gathering fascinating samples for study – some of which proved more challenging to obtain than others, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.
After all that hard work, the six-wheeled rover is now ready for a change of scenery. Curiosity is embarking on a new journey on Mars and will be trekking on toward a very different region of Mount Sharp – a clay-rich area that could unravel how this portion of the mountain took shape.
The rover has already left Vera Rubin Ridge, NASA announced in a news release, and has headed toward a so-called “clay-bearing unit” found just south of its previous location. But before saying goodbye to its old home, Curiosity took the time to snap one last, nostalgic selfie from Vera Rubin Ridge.
The selfie was taken on January 15 – a.k.a. Sol 2291 – and is actually a composite image stitched together from a few dozen individual photos. Before moving on from Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity extended its robotic arm and used its MAHLI camera to snap a total of 57 pictures that ultimately created this “farewell” selfie.
The photo shows a dusty horizon – sign of a small local storm – and unveils Curiosity’s final drill hole on Vera Rubin Ridge. Visible to the lower left of the rover, the drill hole was made at a site known as “Rock Hall” a month before and yielded Curiosity’s 19th drill sample on Mars.
After plotting its new course, Curiosity will begin work at the novel drilling site within the next few days. The rover has already eyed two potential targets, called “Loch Ness” and “Loch Skeen,” which it examined with its ChemCam on Saturday.
According to a NASA blog post, “Loch Ness” and “Loch Skeen” are perfect study “examples of brown and gray bedrock” and – together with another target dubbed “Puddledub” – will give Curiosity’s drill a taste of Mars’ ancient clay deposits.
“ChemCam also had a long-distance image mosaic of an interesting outcrop in the clay-bearing unit,” revealed the blog post.
The new drilling location marks the start of an exciting chapter for the Curiosity rover. “Clay minerals in this unit may hold more clues about the ancient lakes that helped form the lower levels on Mount Sharp,” NASA officials said in a statement.