Sharp rocks on Mars disrupted Curiosity’s plans

NASA’s Curiosity rover is an experienced “climber”. It is slowly moving up the lower layers of Mount Sharp, the central peak of Gale Crater on Mars. But, as any climber knows, sometimes you need to reconsider the route and find a better and safer way.

The Curiosity rover used a Mastcam to take this panorama on the 3423rd Martian day, or sol, of its mission. The team unofficially named the sharp rocks “alligator’s back” because of their scaly appearance. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA announced that Curiosity came across very sharp rocks in an area called the “alligator’s back”. This is an area with characteristic features of sandstone. The rover explored this area and was about to continue moving, but the team managed to find a dangerous obstacle of sharp stones that could seriously damage the wheels of the rover. Curiosity had to turn around and find another way.

Sharp rocks of the “alligator’s back” in the approach

Curiosity’s aluminum wheels were damaged during 10 years of wandering on the surface of Mars. But adjusting routes and optimizing drive control can extend their service life.

New Route

Mount Sharp has a height of 5.5 km. This is a hot point for research because of the exposed layers of sediments with signs of water in ancient Martian times. Curiosity is studying whether Mars could once have been suitable for microbial life. The purpose of the rover is not to climb Mount Sharp, but to explore its charming foot. Curiosity’s new route to explore isn’t so bad. It will return the rover to an intriguing transition zone.

Selfie taken by Curiosity. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“It was really great to see the stones that preserved the time when the lakes dried up and were replaced by streams and dry sand dunes. I’m really curious to see what we find as we continue to climb this alternative route,” said Abigail Freiman, deputy Curiosity project scientist at JPL.

According to NASA

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