Curiosity rover finds more evidence for possible liquid water brines on Mars

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The search for liquid water on Mars is one that has been on-going for decades. It can’t exist for long on the surface, as it will quickly sublimate into the cold, thin atmosphere. Aquifers deep below the surface are still possible, but there is also another tantalizing possibility which scientists have been considering: brines. Such salty liquid water could theoretically last a bit longer on the surface or in the near-subsurface, and now the Curiosity rover has provided more evidence that this may indeed be happening at its location in Gale Crater, as well as elsewhere.

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Curiosity plays in a Martian sand dune

Close-up view of the edge of a Curiosity wheel track in the sand dune at Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Close-up view of the edge of a Curiosity wheel track in the sand dune at Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has also been taking a lot of close-up images of the sand dune which the rover has “toe-dipped” into. The rover’s wheels have left very distinct impressions in the very fine-grained sand within the dune, while the outside of the dune has a denser “crust” covered with many small rounded grains, similar to other dunes seen by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Whether or not Curiosity will actually drive through the dune (if deemed safe) to the other side of Dingo Gap or just go around hasn’t been decided yet, but in the meantime there are lots of new images to enjoy.

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Dingo Gap: new panorama and a rockhound’s bonanza

Mastcam panorama of Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic
Mastcam panorama of Dingo Gap from sol 528. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Dingo Gap has turned out to be quite an interesting place for the Curiosity rover, being both scenic and of great geological interest. Rocks of all sizes and shapes litter the landscape amid the cliffs and sand dunes and Curiosity is continuing to study this area before driving further south toward Mount Sharp. Another new panorama by Damia Bouic shows the scenery in stunning high resolution and there is also a great overview by Emily Lakdawalla on The Planetary Society blog.

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New images: Dingo Gap and the ‘Firepit’

View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is now doing a complete examination of Dingo Gap, and sending back some beautiful new photos. The rover team hasn’t decided yet whether to try to cross though the largest sand dune which spreads across the middle of the Gap, and is about 1 metre (3 feet) tall. The dunes, cliffs and many different broken and jumbled rocks here make this a very scenic location. Of particular interest also is the “rock ring” beside the largest dune, and also now nicknamed by some as the “firepit” (thanks to Bill Dunford of the Riding with Robots blog for that!).

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Curiosity arrives at Dingo Gap

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View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. The interesting “rock ring” is just a short ways straight ahead. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is now at Dingo Gap, and the new images show the sand dunes and rocks in great detail. That includes the interesting “rock ring” mentioned earlier, just in front of the largest sand dune. Curiosity will drive right up to the sand dune (and presumably “rock ring”) in the next day or so, so even better images should be available soon!

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Curiosity closing in on Dingo Gap

Panoramic image of Dingo Gap, with some of the hills of the Gale crater rim in the background. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Olivier de Goursac
Panoramic image of Dingo Gap, with some of the hills of the Gale crater rim in the background. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Olivier de Goursac

The Curiosity rover is now getting a lot closer to Dingo Gap, that interesting opening between two rocky ledges just a short ways to the west. Small sand dunes and rocks cover the ground in DG. The image above is a beautiful panorama of DG by Olivier de Goursac assembled from several separate rover images. The image below was taken closer to DG, showing more detail in the rocks and dunes. There is also a curious little oval-shaped ring of rock just in front of the largest dune on the left side of the image; it looks similar to some of the other “bubble” formations seen previously. Is it the same or something different? We should be even closer in the next day or two to see more… See also updates here.

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Curiosity headed to ‘Dingo Gap’

Dingo Gap, a short ways to the west of Curiosity's current position. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Dingo Gap, a short ways to the west of Curiosity’s current position. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover is going to take a slight detour to the west to cross through a gap between two rocky ledges, now nicknamed Dingo Gap (also “the chute”). The scenic feature was noticed a few days ago and there is a smooth-looking sand dune spanning the opening. Will be interesting to see up close! Then the journey southward to Mount Sharp continues…

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Interesting ‘ribbon rock’ seen by Curiosity rover

ChemCam image of "ribbon rock" taken on sol 514. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
ChemCam image of “ribbon rock” taken on sol 514. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While a lot of attention has been paid the last few days to the odd rock which “appeared” beside the Opportunity rover, the other rover, Curiosity, has found its own interesting little chunk of a Martian puzzle. While not as publicized, it has been the subject of a lot of discussion among mission followers. What are the ribbon-like bands? Could they be feldspar laths? Another type of lath? Something else entirely? Curiosity has taken Mastcam and ChemCam images, but no other information is available yet.

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Curiosity rover confirms ancient Martian lake

View from Yellowknife Bay in Gale crater, looking west-northwest. This area of sedimentary deposits is now known to be the former bottom of a freshwater lake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
View from Yellowknife Bay in Gale crater, looking west-northwest. This area of sedimentary deposits is now known to be the former bottom of a freshwater lake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some exciting new results from the Curiosity rover mission on Mars were announced yesterday at this year’s American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Basically, as previously suspected, Curiosity landed in an ancient lakebed inside Gale crater, and those habitable conditions apparently lasted for a longer time than previously thought.

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Getting closer to Mount Sharp…

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the Curiosity rover keeps making its way closer to Mount Sharp, we are starting to see the foothills, mesas, buttes and valleys in more detail. All of these Mastcam images are from sol 467. The scenery could easily be mistaken for the American southwest, but no, this is Mars. These are just the foothills; Mount Sharp itself is about 4.8 kilometres (3 miles) tall and just out of view to the left. What a stark, yet beautiful, landscape. All of Curiosity’s raw images can be seen here.

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