When water flows over stones, it smooths them out and carries them in its path. Even when the steam has long since dried up, the gravel it leaves behind provides distinct evidence of the water’s former presence. And now the Curiosity rover has found tell-tale gravel embedded in the Martian bedrock, small stones rounded by water and too large for wind to have transported—rocky proof of water’s presence on the Red Planet. Although previous photos suggested that water once flowed on Mars, the rocks in outcrops like the one pictured here, dubbed “Hottah” after Canada’s Hottah Lake, are the most definitive evidence of water on Mars that we have ever found.
Well, they’re not blueberries. That’s about as close as NASA comes to describing these bumps that the Opportunity rover has photographed from the Western rim of Mars’ Endeavor Crater. In 2004, soon after the rover arrived on the Red Planet, it encountered iron rich orbs (nicknamed blueberries) in the Victoria Cater that scientists cite as evidence for water in Mars’ past. After a preliminary analysis, the researchers found that these new Martian goosebumps, each about 3 millimeters wide, have a very different composition. In a press release, Opportunity’s principal investigator Steve Squyres described the newfound formations as “crunchy on the outside, and softer in the middle” and said that they are considering multiple hypotheses about what these bumps might mean. For now, however, how they were formed—and what they might reveal—remains a mystery.
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ USGS/Modesto Junior College
Before Curiosity sets off across the Martian landscape, it needs a chance to catch its (metaphorical) breath. As the rover performs health checks on its systems to ensure that everything is working properly, the robot’s cameras are also checking out its surroundings. This panoramic view, showing Gale Crater and its rim, is a combination of two images taken by the navigation cameras on Curiosity’s mast. Click on it to see the Martian surface in full-resolution glory.
Get excited: the new Mars rover Curiosity is set to land early next week. And the Internet wants you to be prepared, circulating articles, explanations, and lots of videos, the highlights of which we’ve collected here:
Why Do We Have Curiosity?
Considering that we already have one working rover on the surface of the Red Planet, what’s with all the brouhaha over this one? To find out why we’re sending Curiosity to Mars, Ph.D Comics went to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to talk to scientists, ogle the full-sized replica of Curiosity, and learn about the new rover’s scientific instruments, which include, among other things, a rock-shooting laser.
Concept art of Curiosity on Mars
With any luck, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will land successfully in August and trundle off across the surface of the Red Planet. Headlines will laud the brave little robot travelling so far from home. But behind Curiosity, and its predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, is a team of human operators.
Over at Popular Science, Rebecca Boyle looks into the experiences of the rover drivers.
Scott Maxwell stared at his bedroom ceiling in the hours after his first drive, restless with excitement. All systems were go, and he’d sent the commands by the time he left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now he was supposed to sleep before his next shift on Mars time. But he knew that on the fourth planet from the sun, the Spirit rover’s wheels had started to move.