NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has begun the steep ascent of an iron-oxide-bearing ridge that's grabbed scientists' attention since before the car-sized rover's 2012 landing.
"We're on the climb now, driving up a route where we can access the layers we've studied from below," said Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science-team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"As we skirted around the base of the ridge this summer, we had the opportunity to observe the large vertical exposure of rock layers that make up the bottom part of the ridge," said Fraeman, who organized the rover's ridge campaign. "But even though steep cliffs are great for exposing the stratifications, they're not so good for driving up."
The ascent to the top of the ridge from a transition in rock-layer appearance at the bottom of it will gain about 213 feet (65 meters) of elevation -- about 20 stories. The climb requires a series of drives totaling a little more than a third of a mile (570 meters). Before starting this ascent in early September, Curiosity had gained a total of about 980 feet (about 300 meters) in elevation in drives totaling 10.76 miles (17.32 kilometers) from its landing site to the base of the ridge.
"Now we'll have a chance to examine the layers up close as the rover climbs," Fraeman said.
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL said, "Using data from orbiters and our own approach imaging, the team has chosen places to pause for more extensive studies on the way up, such as where the rock layers show changes in appearance or composition. But the campaign plan will evolve as we examine the rocks in detail. As always, it's a mix of planning and discovery."
"The team is excited to be exploring Vera Rubin Ridge, as this hematite ridge has been a go-to target for Curiosity ever since Gale Crater was selected as the landing site," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist of NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's Washington headquarters.
During the first year after its landing near the base of Mount Sharp, the Curiosity mission accomplished a major goal by determining that billions of years ago, a Martian lake offered conditions that would have been favorable for microbial life. Curiosity has since traversed through a diversity of environments where both water and wind have left their imprint. Vera Rubin Ridge and layers above it that contain clay and sulfate minerals provide tempting opportunities to learn even more about the history and habitability of ancient Mars.
For more about Curiosity, visit:
- Curiosity View of 'Vera Rubin Ridge' From Below, Sol 1734
- Curiosity View of 'Vera Rubin Ridge' From Below, Sol 1734 - Figure 1
- Martian Ridge Looming Above Curiosity Prior to Ascent
- Martian Ridge Looming Above Curiosity Prior to Ascent - Figure 1
- Looking Up at Layers of 'Vera Rubin Ridge' on Sol 1790
- Looking Up at Layers of 'Vera Rubin Ridge' on Sol 1790 - Figure 1
- Micro-imager View: Layers in 'Vera Rubin Ridge,' Mars
- Erosion Effects on "Vera Rubin Ridge," Mars
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1077 / 202-358-1726
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