Even as the rover Perseverance is beginning its first science campaign on the floor of Jezero Crater, the rover Curiosity about 3,000 miles to the east has begun its climb into the mountains of Mars that surround the central peak of Gale Crater, Mount Sharp.
The mosaic above, made from two images taken by the rover’s right navigation camera (here and here), shows what Curiosity sees ahead. Since my last update on June 4th describing Curiosity’s future travels, the rover’s science team has pushed forward directly uphill towards the entrance to the canyon Gediz Vallis, visible as the gap between the mountains to the right and left in the above mosaic.
Click for original.
The dotted red line marks the original route the scientists had planned. It right now appears that instead of heading around the high mountains to the west to enter Gediz Vallis farther south, they are heading directly into the canyon. Though they will likely simply dip the rover’s toe into the canyon, then back off and circle around as planned, this is not guaranteed. The rover’s wheels are not in great shape, and the terrain they are traversing is quite rough. They may have decided it is more important to climb as high as they can as quickly as they can, to get to the sulfate unit of rocks indicated by the brightest tan layers on the overview map.
If they do as I am guessing, they will push into the canyon a short distance, then skirt very close to the base of the high butte forming the canyon’s western wall as they head back to their planned route. This will give them excellent terrain to study the sulfate unit as soon as possible, while also affording them (and us!) some breath-taking views of the biggest Martian mountains ever viewed from ground-level.
I intend to post those images, as they occur, so stay tuned. The best part of Curiosity’s Martian journey is now beginning.
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