[meteorite-list] NASA's Curiosity Rover Begins Next Mars Chapter

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 2016 16:58:53 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201610142358.u9ENwrxO007894_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


NASA's Curiosity Rover Begins Next Mars Chapter
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 3, 2016

After collecting drilled rock powder in arguably the most scenic landscape
yet visited by a Mars rover, NASA's Curiosity mobile laboratory is driving
toward uphill destinations as part of its two-year mission extension that
commenced Oct. 1.

The destinations include a ridge capped with material rich in the iron-oxide
mineral hematite, about a mile-and-a-half (two-and-a-half kilometers)
ahead, and an exposure of clay-rich bedrock beyond that.

These are key exploration sites on lower Mount Sharp, which is a layered,
Mount-Rainier-size mound where Curiosity is investigating evidence of
ancient, water-rich environments that contrast with the harsh, dry conditions
on the surface of Mars today.

"We continue to reach higher and younger layers on Mount Sharp," said
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Even after four years of exploring
near and on the mountain, it still has the potential to completely surprise

Hundreds of photos Curiosity took in recent weeks amid a cluster of mesas
and buttes of diverse shapes are fresh highlights among the more than
180,000 images the rover has taken since landing on Mars in August 2012.
Newly available vistas include the rover's latest self-portrait from the
color camera at the end of its arm and a scenic panorama from the color
camera at the top of the mast.

"Bidding good-bye to 'Murray Buttes,' Curiosity's assignment is the ongoing
study of ancient habitability and the potential for life," said Curiosity
Program Scientist Michael Meyer at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "This
mission, as it explores the succession of rock layers, is reading the
'pages' of Martian history -- changing our understanding of Mars and how
the planet has evolved. Curiosity has been and will be a cornerstone in
our plans for future missions."

The component images of the self-portrait were taken near the base of
one of the Murray Buttes, at the same site where the rover used its drill
on Sept. 18 to acquire a sample of rock powder. An attempt to drill at
this site four days earlier had halted prematurely due to a short-circuit
issue that Curiosity had experienced previously, but the second attempt
successfully reached full depth and collected sample material. After departing
the buttes area, Curiosity delivered some of the rock sample to its internal
laboratory for analysis.

This latest drill site -- the 14th for Curiosity -- is in a geological
layer about 600 feet (180 meters) thick, called the Murray formation.
Curiosity has climbed nearly half of this formation's thickness so far
and found it consists primarily of mudstone, formed from mud that accumulated
at the bottom of ancient lakes. The findings indicate that the lake environment
was enduring, not fleeting. For roughly the first half of the new two-year
mission extension, the rover team anticipates investigating the upper
half of the Murray formation.

"We will see whether that record of lakes continues further," Vasavada
said. "The more vertical thickness we see, the longer the lakes were present,
and the longer habitable conditions existed here. Did the ancient environment
change over time? Will the type of evidence we've found so far transition
to something else?"

The "Hematite Unit" and "Clay Unit" above the Murray formation were identified
from Mars orbiter observations before Curiosity's landing. Information
about their composition, from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer
aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, made them high priorities as
destinations for the rover mission. Both hematite and clay typically form
in wet environments.

Vasavada said, "The Hematite and the Clay units likely indicate different
environments from the conditions recorded in older rock beneath them and
different from each other. It will be interesting to see whether either
or both were habitable environments."

NASA approved Curiosity's second extended mission this summer on the basis
of plans presented by the rover team. Additional extensions for exploring
farther up Mount Sharp may be considered in the future. The Curiosity
mission has already achieved its main goal of determining whether the
landing region ever offered environmental conditions that would have been
favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life. The mission
found evidence of ancient rivers and lakes, with a chemical energy source
and all of the chemical ingredients necessary for life as we know it.

The mission is also monitoring the modern environment of Mars, including
natural radiation levels. Along with other robotic missions to the Red
Planet, it is an important piece of NASA's Journey to Mars, leading toward
human crew missions in the 2030s. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena,
California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate and built the project's Curiosity rover. For more
information about Curiosity, visit:


News Media Contact
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo at nasa.gov

Received on Fri 14 Oct 2016 07:58:53 PM PDT

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