November 30, 2022

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A huge group of wind rocks forces the Mars probe, Curiosity, to turn around

A huge group of wind rocks forces the Mars probe, Curiosity, to turn around

The mission team wants to prevent the rover wheels from getting unnecessarily damaged. And so a new route was planned.

The Curiosity spacecraft spent most of March climbing the so-called Greenheugh Pediment, a rugged sandstone cliff. The rover briefly reached the north side of this hill two years ago, and now it’s the south side’s turn. Unfortunately, the Mars rover can turn again. Because a raft of sharp, high winds boulders block his path.

More about Greenheugh Fronton
Greenheugh Fronton is a cliff near the base of Mount Sharp that is about two kilometers wide. The Curiosity mission team first observed this slope in orbital images before the lander touched down on the Red Planet in 2012. The sole is a striking “bump.” And so the researchers wanted to better understand how it formed.

As Curiosity climbed the slope, the mission team saw rocks from an unexpected wind looming, forming the surface of Greenhugh’s base. The team soon realized that the rover had to turn. For example, Curiosity’s path was covered in more rocks than ever before in the probe’s ten-year mission. “It was clear that this wouldn’t be good for Curiosity wheels,” said project manager Megan Lane.

Not worth or not worth it
Wind rock is a stone that has been ground under the influence of wind and sand. The samples that Curiosity encountered are made of sandstone, the hardest type of rock the rover has seen on Mars so far. By the way, the road to Curiosity was not completely impassable. “It’s not worth it,” NASA said. “In addition to making the climb very slow, it will also cause more wear to Curiosity’s wheels.”

Wind rocks seen through Curiosity’s eyes. Unfortunately, this means that the rover can spin again. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Wind rocks left marks on Curiosity’s tires earlier in the mission. Since then, engineers have found ways to slow wheel wear. The intent is that curiosity will be around for a while. And so everything is done to keep the wheels in ‘good shape’. This also means that wind rocks or similar rocks are avoided as much as possible.

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turn right
In general, this means that curiosity is allowed to turn again. In the coming weeks, Curiosity will roll back to where it was before: a transitional zone between an area rich in mud and an area with large amounts of mineral salts called sulfates. Clay minerals formed when the mountain was wetter, strewn with streams and lakes. The salts may have formed when the Martian climate dried up over time.

new way
Meanwhile, a new route has already been planned. For the foreseeable future, Curiosity will continue to explore Mount Sharp – the three-mile-long mountain in the center of Gale Crater, which the rover has been climbing since 2014. While exploring, Curiosity is studying many sedimentary layers formed by water billions of years ago. These layers help scientists understand whether microscopic life exists on Mars.

By the way, after 10 years of intense research on Mars, Curiosity began to appear here and there. For example, some of the braking mechanisms on the arm of the robot holding this drill turned out to be worn out. However, Curiosity has spare parts that ensure the arm continues to function. Engineers are now studying how to keep this basic robotic arm running for as long as possible.

Curiosity mission

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater in August 2012 and revealed many of the crater’s secrets in recent years. For example, the rover has found strong indications that the pit was filled with water in the past. This explains why, for example, earlier Mineral formations have been found† Mount Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp is at the heart of the crater. This mountain consists of sedimentary deposits and is in fact a time capsule: each layer tells something about a different period in the history of Mars. Curiosity is currently conducting a thorough investigation of this mountain. Hopefully, this will teach us a lot about the Red Planet’s past.