NASA’s Curiosity rover is continuing its lonely exploration of Mars, and has captured these beautiful but haunting views of the deserted Martian landscape.
These images were snapped this week and show the desolate outlook across the Gale Crater. You can view a regularly updated feed of the raw images captured by Curiosity on NASA’s website, with information about when and where each image was taken and which of Curiosity’s multiple cameras took it.
Curiosity has a total of seventeen cameras on board, including the Remote Micro Imager which is part of the Chemistry and Camera suite (aka ChemCam), two black and white navigation cameras on both left and right, two color cameras on the mast (aka Mastcams), one on the end of the robotic arm, and nine more cameras mounted to the rover’s body for functions like hazard avoidance and landing assistance. The photos shown here were taken by the black and white navigation cameras.
Curiosity is currently studying an area of the Gale Crater called Mount Sharp, a mountain rising 5.5 km (3.4 miles) above the floor of the crater. For reference, that’s roughly the same height as Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa. Curiosity is moving around the base of the mountain, looking at the layers of rock which can give clues to changes in the Martian environment over time.
Over the next few years, Curiosity will wend its way up the mountain toward areas of higher elevation, moving through an area called the sulfate unit where scans from orbit have detected sulfate minerals. This indicates that there was once ancient water in the area which either dried out or became more acidic over time.
Curiosity will also be exploring a region called the Gediz Vallis channel, a gorge where an ancient river used to run. This gorge formed later than the sulfate unit and can tell us more about the history of water on Mars.
For now, the rover is exploring a region called the Central Butte, where rocks have been eroded to reveal layers that are believed to have formed between 3.5 billion and 3.8 billion years ago.