NASA’s Curiosity Rover Completes 10 Years of Exploring Mars — Here’s What It Has Found So Far
It’s been more than 10 years since the US space agency NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars in search of ancient signs of life on the planet. Curiosity is part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission and is the biggest and the most capable rover ever sent to the Red Planet. Having launched on November 26, 2011, and making its descent on the Martian surface on August 5, 2012, Curiosity has so far covered 29 kilometres and ascended 625 metres on the Gale crater, where it landed. During its expedition so far, Curiosity has used its host of instruments and tools to examine if Mars ever had the right environmental conditions to support small life forms such as microbes.
Digging for evidence, the rover analysed 41 rock and soil samples on the planet in the past years. It scanned the skies of the Red Planet and sent intriguing pictures of shining clouds and drifting moons. With its radiation sensors, Curiosity has been capable of measuring the amount of radiation astronauts in future missions would be exposed to on Mars.
In its most significant finding, the rover concluded that the Gale crater had liquid water as well as the chemical building blocks and nutrients required for sustaining life at least tens of millions of years ago. It also determined that the crater had a lake and whose size waxed and waned over time. It explored the foothills of Mount Sharp in the crater where each layer offers signs on more recent era of the Red Planet’s environment.
Watch this video to know more as Curiosity turns 10:
“We’re seeing evidence of dramatic changes in the ancient Martian climate. The question now is whether the habitable conditions that Curiosity has found up to now persisted through these changes. Did they disappear, never to return, or did they come and go over millions of years?” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Considering its abilities and efficiency, NASA recently extended Curiosity’s mission for three more years. Now, the rover is passing through a canyon, a new region that is thought to have formed after the water dried up and left salty minerals called sulfates. Scientists plan to explore this sulfate-rich region for the next few years and target particular sites like the Gediz Vallis channel for their study.