NASA’s Curiosity rover has entered a patch of Mars that could tell the story of the planet’s climate change.
Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. The estimated lifespan on Mars is one Martian year, but Curiosity’s two-year mission was extended indefinitely in December 2012.
Upon landing, the rover found evidence that Gale Crater had a habitable system of lakes and streams billions of years ago. Since then, the rover has navigated the foothills of Mount Sharp, exploring multiple layers of rock for clues as to how and when Lake Gaila and the rest of Mars dried up.
The members of the mission team believe that in the near future there will be more information about the past climate of Mars.
We have spent the last few years exploring the clay-rich rocks that have formed in the lakes. But now we are entering a region where rocks are filled with salty minerals, sulfates. These minerals form in drier conditions, so we think this area may provide information about changes in the ancient Martian climate.
Abigail Freiman, Deputy Research Fellow, Curiosity Project
The project team notes that Curiosity performs well despite the relatively large age for the rover. The radioactive power source must last at least 14 years, so Curiosity is theoretically able to climb the mountain for a while.
Scientists hope to find out how long the planet has maintained conditions that are theoretically favorable for life.