Sep 19, 2023 - Science

NASA's Curiosity reaches ridge formed in Mars' watery past

A panoramic view of the Martian surface viewed by Curiosity in August 2023.

A panoramic view of the Martian surface viewed by Curiosity in August 2023. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/UC Berkeley

After three attempts, NASA's Curiosity rover reached a Martial ridge believed to have been partly formed by ancient muddy landslides around three billion years ago, the space agency announced this week.

Why it matters: The ridge likely contains some of the youngest evidence of liquid water in the rover's part of Mars, as it was among the the last geographic features to form in the area.

Details: The months-long journey up to the the Gediz Vallis Ridge was one of Curiosity's most difficult climbs, having to navigate a sharp 23-degree incline, slippery sand and rocks around the size of its wheels.

  • After reaching the ridge in August, the rover spent 11 days taking photos and studying rocks in the area, some of which were as large as cars.
  • The ridge was a stop along Curiosity's ascent of through the foothills of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain that was once covered in lakes and streams.

The intrigue: Researchers discovered that, based on their composition, many dark rocks and boulders in the area likely originated elsewhere on the mountain and were washed down in debris flows.

  • Scientists were intrigued by the ridge because it would give them an opportunity to study rocks from higher regions of the mountain where Curiosity likely won't be able to reach.

The big picture: On Aug. 19, Curiosity captured over 130 images of a section of the ridge and the wider landscape and stitched them into a 360-degree mosaic.

  • In the distance, the upper region of Mount Sharp can be seen behind a prominent butte in the foreground, which Curiosity captured in a separate image.
A screenshot on Twitter of the part of the moon where NASA's rover is with the comment: " What a beaut! (Get it?)  Just sharing this lovely view of Kukenan, a butte I recently drove by as I continue to explore different areas of Mount Sharp."
Photo: Curiosity Rover/X
  • The rover marked its 11th year on the Red Planet last month, and will next attempt to find a path up a channel above the ridge that could help researchers understand how and where water flowed down the mountain.
  • Throughout their years on the planet, NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance and rovers have helped reveal Mars' more hospital past, though scientists have not discovered evidence that it once supported life.

Go deeper: NASA shares unprecedented view of moon's south pole region

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