Published: Tue, September 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity snaps dusty selfie

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity snaps dusty selfie

Armed with its workaround drilling technique, the Curiosity rover continues to probe Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge.

The panoramic view captures Curiosity's current location on Vera Rubin Ridge inside the Gale Crater, revealing the rover's most recent drill target. NASA has uploaded that panorama to YouTube as a 360-degree offering, providing an immersive look at the Red Planet's landscape. NASA's Curiosity rover, the one that is still operational, has sent back a panorama of its position on the planet, including a rare look at some of its instruments (which are covered in a layer of dust).

Another sign of the passing storm can be seen in the dusty, "umber skies" overhead, which NASA points out are "darkened by a fading global dust storm".

In the photo, you can see a thin layer of dust on Curiosity, the result of the same storm which enveloped the red planet this summer.

The photo was taken on August 9 after Curiosity picked up a new rock sample from Vera Rubin Ridge.

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Drilling is the only way to determine how hard a rock target is, so Curiosity's controllers have to make educated guesses about where to drill next. In mid-July, the rover came across a Martian rock that put its drill to shame, refusing to yield a drilled sample.

While there's no way of knowing which rocks are harder and therefore more difficult to drill into, the Curiosity team has learned that Vera Rubin Ridge has a complex structure.

Ashwin Vasavada, one of the scientists working on the project said, "The ridge has two distinct sections, each of which has a variety of colours". That strategy seems to have panned out, but questions still abound as to why Vera Rubin Ridge exists in the first place.

"Testing has shown it to be as effective at drilling rocks as the old method, suggesting the hard rocks would have posed a problem no matter which method was used". If all goes according to plan, Curiosity will climb off the ridge in October, headed for clay- and sulfate-bearing deposits higher up on Mount Sharp, NASA officials said.

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