Mars rover Curiosity arrives at sulfate-rich Mount Sharp

NASA’s long-running Curiosity spacecraft on Mars has finally reached a goal it’s been pursuing since landing on the Red Planet a decade ago: the “sulfate-bearing unit” at Mount Sharp.

The area was first observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, who has been studying the Gale Crater area of ​​Mars since 2006. NASA marked the area for investigation due to a high concentration of salty minerals indicating that it was covered in water.

“Shortly after its arrival, the rover discovered a variety of past rock types and water signs,” NASA said. Among the signs were “popcorn texture nodules” and minerals such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts), calcium sulfate (gypsum) and sodium chloride (table salt).

Curiosity found the minerals by drilling into a NASA rock called “Kanema” in the sulfate-bearing unit, which NASA initially said was causing them problems due to concerns it was too hard. Attempting to break it could do more damage to the rover’s arm due to brake wear after taking 35 previous drill samples, though the team said it turned out to be easier to crush than they initially thought.

Curiosity-Kanaima-Drilling a Hole

Curiosity drilling hole Made in Canaima

Along the way

Curiosity has been mapped to Mount Sharp since landing on Mars in 2012. The three-mile-long (5 kilometer) mountain has been visible in Curiosity images from the surface of Mars for years, and in 2020 NASA began highlighting the probe’s journey up to the mountain. Sulfur website.

By June, Curiosity was approaching, but it still had to pass through the narrow “Paraitepuy Pass”, as its pilots had to contend with hills that intermittently blocked Curiosity’s signal to its orbiting satellites. Curiosity escaped the pass unharmed, and with a set of photographs Curiosity’s director of scientific operations described it as stunning.

“The sand hills were amazing,” said Elena Amador French. “You see perfect little ATV trails on it. And the slopes were beautiful – we got really close to the walls.”


Paraitepuy Pass, a treacherous area Curiosity has had to navigate recently

NASA hopes that its research into the sulfate-rich module will provide additional clues about how Mars has dried up and turned into a wasteland that we now think it is. Curiosity found evidence earlier this year that methane-producing life may have existed on Mars, and meanwhile simulations of the Martian environment may have provided the hypothesis that Curiosity could at least contribute to solving the problem.

Research from the University of Arizona recently found that the environment of Mars may be so different from that of Earth, that early life – especially the kind that emits methane – could have cooled the planet by removing too much hydrogen, thinning the atmosphere And cause Mars. Let’s turn to the inhospitable world we know today.

NASA plans to spend the next few years exploring the sulfate-rich region, and it already has new research goals in mind for Curiosity’s next stations. ®

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