NASA has announced that its Mars Curiosity rover has started its ‘summer trip’ on the Red Planet, kicking things off with a new panorama featuring the Greenheugh Pediment. During its road trip, NASA says the rover will cover around one mile of the Martian surface, ending back at a tall mountain called Mount Sharp that it has been exploring for several years.
The Curiosity rover is making its way to a part of the Mount Sharp region that is known as the sulfate-bearing unit, which is full of gypsum, Epsom salts, and other sulfates. These compounds usually form in places where water had once been located, helping NASA learn about the distant Mars past and how it transformed into the barren landscape we see today.
NASA’s Curiosity team is still controlling the rover from their homes, adding a layer of complexity to this year’s activities. However, the space agency says that part of this trip will be accomplished using the rover’s integrated autonomous capabilities. With this, Curiosity is able to figure out the safest routes for it to take on its own.
The trip has kicked off with a new panorama that features the clay-bearing unit Curiosity has already explored, one composed of 28 individual images. NASA will move forward into new areas, but will have to move across beds of sand without becoming stuck in the sediment.
Key parts of the Martian landscape reveal that water had once been found on the planet, but was lost for unknown reasons. The rover — and the Mars 2020 unit heading out later this summer — will investigate these features, shedding light on the planet’s history.