|Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona|
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet's Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission's long-term prime destination. Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said, "Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world." Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain's lower slopes.
The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than continuing on to the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes. Both entry points lay along a boundary where the southern base layer of the mountain meets crater-floor deposits washed down from the crater’s northern rim.
The image above shows the old and new routes of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover This new route provides excellent access to many features in the Murray Formation. And it will eventually pass by the Murray Formation's namesake, Murray Buttes, previously considered to be the entry point to Mt. Sharp.
Curiosity made its first close-up study last month of two Murray Formation outcrops, both revealing notable differences from the terrain explored by Curiosity during the past year. The first outcrop, called Bonanza King, proved too unstable for drilling, but was examined by the rover’s instruments and determined to have high silicon content. A second outcrop, examined with the rover's telephoto Mast Camera, revealed a fine-grained, platy surface laced with sulfate-filled veins.
While some of these terrain differences are not apparent in observations made by NASA's Mars orbiters, the rover team still relies heavily on images taken by the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to plan Curiosity’s travel routes and locations for study.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. The destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series of geological layers that recorded different chapters in the environmental evolution of Mars.
The Mars Exploration Rover Project is one element of NASA's ongoing preparation for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s. JPL built Curiosity and manages the project and MRO for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl