On Monday (September 18), NASA confirmed that after three failed attempts, its Curiosity Mars rover managed to reach an uncertain target on the Red Planet: the Gediz Vallis ridge.
About why this formation was worth the fuss Curiosity? Scientists believe that three billion years ago when Mars was much wetter than the arid land it is now, strong debris flows carried mud and boulders down the side of a nearby mountain known as Mount Sharp. According to NASAthis debris “spread into a fan that was later wind-eroded onto a towering ridge.”
In practical terms, this story means that this ridge is proof The Blue Past of Mars – and perhaps even more exciting information about ancient, dangerous landslides on the planet.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to witness these events,” geologist William Dietrich, a member of the mission team at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement. “Huge rocks were ripped from the mountain high above them. , rushed down the hill and spread out into the fan below. The results of this campaign will force us to better explain such events not only on Mars, but even on Earth, where they are a natural hazard.”
The target was reached on August 14, or the 3923rd Martian day (sol) of the mission. Once settled, Curiosity’s Lubricant he took 136 individual images of the site, which were stitched together to create a 360-degree panorama that was later color-enhanced for visual purposes.
Related: How NASA’s Curiosity rover overcame the steepest ascent to Mars to date (video)
The ringing chain of bureaucracy
To get to the crest of Gediz Vallis, Curiosity had to overcome several obstacles.
First, the rover had trouble accessing this long-sought-after area of the Red Planet after zooming in on a spot known as Greenheugh Shieldwhich scientists claim was an extremely difficult rock formation to climb.
Then, last year, Curiosity ran into the knife edge of the “gator-back” rocks dotted along another possible route to the ridge. The nickname “gator-back” comes from the fact that these rocks resemble the scales on the back of an alligator. They are believed to be made of sandstone – which also made them the hardest type of rock encountered by Curiosity on Mars.
And earlier this year, Curiosity faced another setback on its way to Gediz Vallis after viewing the Marker Band Valley. Get out of the Marker Band, NASA he said at the time, was comparable to participating in a Martian “slip and slide”. All this ordeal has left Curiosity in fine shape.
The Curiosity team called GV Ridge the “Bermuda Triangle” of Mt. Sharp, by mission update from the beginning of this year. “We are now meters away from being able to reach out and get contact science on some of the ridge material, and anticipation is growing,” the update adds.
But now Curiosity has satisfied our curiosity.
“After three years, we finally found a place on Mars that allowed Curiosity to safely reach a steep ridge,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s an exciting opportunity to reach out and touch rocks that have been transported from places high up on Mount Sharp that we’ll never be able to visit with Curiosity.”
On the latter point, Curiosity was never intended to climb to the top of Mount Sharp, which means dissecting the rocks on the ground that once topped the formation is a uniquely important opportunity.
The rover has been exploring the 3-mile-high (5-kilometer-high) mountain since 2014, encountering evidence of ancient streams and the like along the way, NASA explained, but the Gediz Vallis ridge was an entirely new area to explore — and, in fact, the youngest part of the region.
what did we find
According to NASA, Curiosity spent 11 days on the ridge after its arrival in mid-August. During this time he photographed dark rocks in the region that “apparently originated elsewhere on the mountain”, as well as others further down the ridge, “some as big as cars”. These sherds are believed to have come from higher up on Mount Sharp.
Curiosity’s Mastcam captured a total of 136 images of the Gediz Vallis ridge, which were stitched together to create a 360-degree view.
Additionally, the team says the rover has offered scientists the first-ever close-up views of a geologic creature called a “debris-flow fan,” which refers to the phenomenon where debris flowing down a slope spreads out into a fan shape.
Curiosity has been orbiting its planetary body since 2012 as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. So far, his travels have taken him to incredible places, such as Gale Crater — a large impact sod with a layered mountain at its center — and (more adorably) this rock it looks like an open book.
With Gediz Vallis finally under its belt, Curiosity aims to find its way over the ridge to learn about Mount Sharp’s aquatic history.