Curiosity Rover Must Take Detour After Encountering ‘Gator Back’ Rocks on Mars

The rocky impasse to Curiosity's path.

Forgot all about Curiosity, did not you? The veteran Mars rover spent most of final month climbing a delicate slope often called the Greenheugh Pediment, however now it has to show again after encountering sharp rocks that might harm its wheels.

Although just lately overshadowed by the brand-spanking-new Perseverance rover, which is learning a dried up crater lake for indicators of fossilized microbial life, the Curiosity rover continues to be very a lot alive and effectively on the Purple Planet. Curiosity is learning geology on a lofty Martian mountaintop, which is the way it got here throughout the fascinating (albeit bothersome) rock formation.

The rocks are sandstone ventifacts—stones sharpened by years and years of wind-driven erosion—and are nicknamed ‘gator again’ rocks for his or her resemblance to the Earth reptile’s bumpy dorsal aspect. Curiosity encountered them on March 18 on the pediment’s south aspect, atop the three.4-mile-tall Mount Sharp that the rover has been climbing since 2014. (Within the winter, the rover captured some arresting photographs from its lofty outpost,

“From a distance, we will see car-sized boulders that had been transported down from larger ranges of Mount Sharp – perhaps by water comparatively late in Mars’ moist period,” mentioned Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s undertaking scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA launch, “We do not actually know what they’re, so we wished to see them up shut.”

In accordance with NASA, the rocks aren’t impassable however would significantly climate Curiosity’s wheels. The Curiosity crew determined traversing the stones wasn’t price it. As an alternative, the following couple of weeks will see the rover descend the Greenheugh Pediment to an space lined with clay and sulfates. On a extra historical Mars, the area featured streams and ponds, which dried up as the Martian local weather modified, (The identical cause that Perseverance’s Jezero Crater is not an enormous lake).

“It was actually cool to see rocks that preserved a time when lakes had been drying up and being changed by streams and dry sand dunes,” mentioned Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy undertaking scientist, within the launch. “I am actually curious to see what we discover as we proceed to climb on this alternate route.”

Although Curiosity persists—it is now been roving Mars for practically a decade—it’s exhibiting indicators of damage, a part of the rationale the crew backed down from the gator again rocks. The rover’s robotic arms have braking mechanisms which have stopped working, although the machine continues to be in a position to drill rock samples. On a dry planet lengthy devoid of water, the Martian stones are each the boon and bane of scientific operations.

Extra: NASA and ESA Change Plans for Bold Mars Pattern Return Mission

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