NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has continued to find new evidence of water and the possibility that the red planet was once hospitable to life, the space agency announced today at a briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas.
Last Tuesday, Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, made the stunning announcement that: “A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes.”
That finding was based on drilled rock samples from a site called Yellowknife Bay. However, Curiosity has continued to seek out water-bearing minerals in the same area. The rover used both an infrared camera and a special Russian-made instrument that shoots neutrons to probe for hydrogen at a distance.
Because the rover is essentially exploring an extremely dry desert, any water molecules that it does find are bound up in rock. That’s why a combination of drilling, near-infrared photography, and other specialized equipment are required to seek it out.
But it isn’t all work and no play for the Mars Curiosity. Between cleaning and analyzing rock, and seeking out possible new hydrated minerals, it found time to grab a few scenic landscape photos.
It actually took a mosaic of dozens of photographs to create the picture you see of Mount Sharp, snapped patiently by the 100-millimeter-focal-length telephoto lens camera attached to Curiosity. The sky is not really blue on Mars, of course. Instead, NASA adjusted the color balance to what our earthly eyes are used to, allowing them to scan more quickly for evidence of important minerals.
Mount Sharp overlooks the floor of Yellowknife Bay where Curiosity continues to work. At 18,000 feet, it’s far higher than any mountain in the lower 48 United States.
I think I speak for every rockhound when I say that I can’t wait to see what the Mars Curiosity rover finds next.
[color balance photo of Mount Sharp, Mars courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS]
[drill site Mars photos courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS]