It's been more than a year — time to get roving again.
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is blazing a new trail after spending time at the Red Planet's Vera Rubin Ridge, which is on the planet's Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), since 2017.
But before the rover left its campsite, Curiosity's team released a 360-degree video based on a Dec. 19, 2018, panorama the explorer obtained of its surroundings. The panorama shows dramatic, pockmarked terrain at the "feet" of the rover's wheels, while the peak of the mountain looms high in the distance. The panorama also shows bits of the Curiosity rover, including its robot arm, some of its cameras and a few of its six wheels. [Amazing Mars Rover Curiosity's Latest Photos]
Vera Rubin yielded a treasure trove of water discoveries, NASA officials said in a statement. Curiosity confirmed an orbital signature of hematite, an iron-rich mineral that usually is formed in water. It found weird crystals that have an obscure origin story that scientists are still investigating. Moreover, Curiosity's hematite finds didn't always coincide with the view from space.
"The whole traverse is helping us understand all the factors that influence how our orbiters see Mars," Curiosity science team member Abigail Fraeman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in the statement. "Looking up close with a rover allowed us to find a lot more of these hematite signatures. It shows how orbiter and rover science complement one another."
While Curiosity racked up science finds, the rover also went through some technical successes and failures. The rover's recalcitrant drill began moving again after a new mechanical fix, but fell still after Curiosity found rocks that were harder than expected. The rover also faced down — and overcame — a serious memory problem when engineers decided to swap the twin rover computers and bring a backup "brain" online. Curiosity's team members still aren't sure what caused the issue, but they expect operations will continue with few snags.
The rover is now on its way to Glen Torridon, a region that scientists suspect has clay minerals. Specifically, images obtained from orbit suggest the presence of phyllosilicates — clay minerals that form in water, a telltale sign of the ancient lakes inside Gale Crater and the surrounding area of Mount Sharp.
As is common with Martian rover missions, Curiosity will move on to Glen Torridon, even though certain scientific questions about Vera Rubin remain unanswered. The investigation of that site will continue, however; it often takes scientists months or years to piece together all the information, and time on Mars is limited.
"Curiosity's team is still piecing together the story of its formation," NASA officials added about Vera Rubin. "While there have been a number of clues so far, none fully explains why the ridge has resisted erosion compared with the bedrock around it. But the rover's investigation did find that the rocks of the ridge formed as sediment settled in an ancient lake, similar to rock layers below the ridge."
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater in August 2012 and has now been exploring Mars for more than 2,300 sols, or Martian days. Curiosity first arrived at Mount Sharp in 2014.