NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has achieved yet another milestone: 2,000 Martian days (“sols”) of service. The rover has been rolling around the Red Planet since landing in August 2012. Since then, Curiosity has traveled more than 11 miles, revealing evidence of ancient freshwater, the basic ingredients for microbial life, and more.
Curiosity is one of NASA’s many achievements, having greatly outlived its original mission to continue working daily on behalf of Earth-bound scientists. The rover has been making its way up Mars’ Mount Sharp since late 2014, a destination researchers are eager to investigate.
Scientists have previously identified one spot in particular that contains clay minerals; that is Curiosity’s new target. Clay minerals are important because they require water to form. Based on past evidence unearthed by Curiosity, researchers know that Mount Sharp’s lower layers formed in ancient lakes no longer present in the Gale Crater.
Investigating these areas will help scientists understand Mars’ water history, such as how long water existed on the planet and if the environment could have sustained life. Once ready, Curiosity will drill for rock samples in areas with clay minerals, using its on-board labs for analysis. However, NASA says that it is wrapping up a new drilling process being prepared for the anticipated clay mineral studies.
Though that work is still in the pipeline, Curiosity has contributed to vast amounts of research. For example, the rover has looked at in excess of 600ft of rock that show hints of past groundwater and lakes. Based on Curiosity’s findings, experts believe Mars may have had a habitable period that spanned millions of years or longer.