Curiosity's First 5 Years
While the mission has been full of successes, Curiosity has had some trouble with its wheels. Initially, the wheels were deteriorating faster than expected on the tough Martian terrain, but NASA modified the rover's driving style, taking it along gentler routes. This has slowed the damage, though wheel wear continues. The rover team is also troubleshooting an issue with Curiosity's drill, which has not been used since December 2016.
In the last few months, Curiosity has moved on to a new ridge on Mount Sharp and is trying to learn more about the environment there. The next few slides show the rover's journey around this feature, which mission scientists have dubbed Vera Rubin Ridge.
Mount Sharp and Vera Rubin Ridge
Here is a view of Vera Rubin Ridge, which was named after the late Vera Cooper Rubin, an astronomer whose observations helped provide evidence for dark matter in the universe. The eight-story ridge features an iron-oxide mineral called hematite that is known to form in wet conditions. (Hematite has been found in other locations on Mars by NASA's Opportunity and Spirit rovers.)
Layers on Mars
"We want to determine the relationship between the conditions that produced the hematite and the conditions under which the rock layers of the ridge were deposited," Curiosity science team member Abigail Fraeman, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "Were they deposited by wind, or in a lake, or some other setting? Did the hematite form while the sediments accumulated, or later, from fluids moving through the rock?"
This previous work included an investigation of "Quimby," a rock that may have fallen off the top of Ireson Hill, and study of a target in the bedrock nicknamed "Quoddy." Curiosity captured close-up images and panoramic photos in this area, and also performed chemical and spectroscopic analysis, NASA officials said.
Dunes on a Mountain
In 2015, Curiosity data showed a dune surprise: It turns out that there is a kind of dune on Mars that does not exist on Earth. Due to Mars' thinner atmosphere, the Red Planet can support a kind of mid-size dune that falls between the small ripples and the large dunes that are seen on both Mars and Earth, NASA announced at the time.
The touchdown site, nicknamed Bradbury Landing, is marked by a blue star at the top. Blue triangles show where Curiosity stopped to examine features in Gale Crater and, starting with Pahrump Hills, on the flanks of Mount Sharp. Curiosity's position on July 9, 2017, is marked with the Sol 1750 label. A "sol" is a day on Mars, which is roughly 24 hours and 40 minutes in Earth time.
The team will also attempt to determine whether a range of different oxidation levels, which could have served as an energy source for possible Mars life, existed at the site long ago.