This NASA video, released Wednesday (May 15, 2019), shows what it would be like to soar over Mars’ Mount Sharp, following the route of the Curiosity rover, which has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014, and has now moved to a new area that the science team calls the “clay-bearing unit”.
In the video, Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada gives a tour of the rover’s new home in the clay-bearing unit – or “clay unit” for short – where Curiosity has just started analyzing rock samples. The clay-bearing unit has been an important scientific destination since even before Curiosity launched. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spied a strong clay signal in this region, suggesting that water might have played a role in its formation. On its long trek since landing on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has discovered many examples of mudstones containing clay minerals.
Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson said:
Curiosity has been on the road for nearly seven years. Finally drilling at the clay-bearing unit is a major milestone in our journey up Mount Sharp.
The aerial tour also shows the rover’s proposed path in the years ahead. Targets that are intriguing to scientists include the rocky cliffs of the “sulfate-bearing unit,” where sulfate minerals might indicate the area was drying up or becoming more acidic in ancient times, and an area called Gediz Vallis, where a river may have carved a path through the sulfate unit.
Each region represents a different period in the history of Mount Sharp, which rises about 3 miles (5 km) from the base of Gale Crater. Curiosity’s scientists want to visit these places to learn more about the history of water on the mountain, which slowly dried up as the climate changed.
Bottom line: Video shows current route of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.