NASA’s Curiosity rover has been making a steady climb towards a strange Martian ridge that’s captivated scientists since before the mission even started.
Known as Vera Ridge after the pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin, the durable outcrop could shed new light on the environment and potential habitability of ancient Mars.
The Curiosity rover’s explorations have already shown that this region of Mars once hosted an ancient lake, which is seen as a potential sign of habitability, and a possible example of what Earth looked like in its primordial days.
But to observe these tantalizing features, Curiosity has some climbing to do. Mission planners are carefully selecting a route that, in addition to ensuring a safe ascent, will lead to the ridge layers that were previously studied from a lower vantage point.
“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 Abigail Fraeman, the NASA scientist who organized the rover’s ridge campaign, in a statement. “But even though steep cliffs are great for exposing the stratification, they’re not so good for driving up.”
Curiosity will have to climb 213 feet or the height of a 20 story building. The rover is now mounting a steep grade, requiring it to make a series of carefully controlled climbs across a total distance of a third of a mile (570 meters). Keep in mind that Curiosity is about the size of a car, and its trajectory is being controlled by mission planners located 250 million miles away.
Keep in mind that Curiosity is about the size of a car, and its trajectory is being controlled by mission planners located 250 million miles away.
“The campaign plan will evolve as we examine the rocks in detail. As always, it’s a mix of planning and discovery.”