NASA highlights the changing Martian environment Curiosity is exploring

It may be a surprise to learn that NASA's Curiosity rover has been exploring the Red Planet for nine years. Over the years, as the rover has been exploring Mars, it has encountered a vastly changing landscape. Curiosity is currently exploring Mount Sharp, a mountain standing five miles high inside the Gale Crater basin.

Curiosity's Mast Camera took the image above, highlighting the landscape features the rover is currently exploring. NASA scientists are very excited about the current area Curiosity is exploring. Spacecraft orbiting Mars have shown that Curiosity is exploring a region that lies between an area featuring clay minerals and one dominated by sulfates.

Scientists believe that the layers in the mountain they are exploring will reveal how water in the distant past dried-up inside Gale Crater. Studying this specific area of Mount Sharp is one of the primary long-term goals for the Curiosity mission. Scientists hope to learn from the rocks in the area how a planet that was wet in the distant past ended up the arid wasteland we see today.

In particular, scientists want to learn how long the planet was wet and if it might've harbored any type of life. Curiosity landed on the surface of Mars on August 5, 2012. One of its main methods of learning more about the Martian surface is pulverizing rock using a drill on the tip of its robotic arm.

The drilling process creates a powder that is placed inside instruments within the rover's chassis to determine what chemicals and minerals are present in the sample. One of the most recent samples taken by Curiosity was its 32nd since landing on the planet. That sample came from a rock called "Pontours" that helped shed details on the transitional area between one dominated by clay minerals and another dominated by sulfates.