Oh, what a trip it's been for the Curiosity rover on Mars.
This week, NASA's nuclear-powered rover celebrated its 2,000th Martian day (or Sol) on the Red Planet, but don't expect a pit stop any time soon.
Curiosity's milestone day caught the rover in the act of climbing 3-mile-high (5 kilometers) Mars mountain called Mount Sharp. To mark the occasion, NASA unveiled a new vista of Mount Sharp as seen by Curiosity earlier this year in January (taken during Sol 1931). [More Spectacular Mars Views by Curiosity]
"Looming over the image is Mount Sharp, the mountain Curiosity has been climbing since September 2014," NASA officials wrote Thursday (March 22). "In the center of the image is the rover's next big, scientific target: an area scientists have studied from orbit and have determined contains clay minerals."
Clay minerals would have needed water to form, and scientists already know the lower regions of Mount Sharp formed in lakes that once dotted the floor of Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed in August 2012.
Curiosity has driven 11.6 miles (18.7 km) since landing on Mars on a mission to determine if the region could ever have been habitable for primitive life.
"In 2013, the mission found evidence of an ancient freshwater-lake environment that offered all the basic chemical ingredients for microbial life," NASA officials wrote. "Since reaching Mount Sharp in 2014, Curiosity has examined environments where both water and wind have left their marks."
The region was likely habitable for microbes for millions of years, they added.