NASA’s Curiosity rover has used its mastcam, or Mastcam, to take a new 360-degree panorama of the Red Planet.
The Curiosity rover spent most of March climbing the Greenhue Gable, a gentle slope covered in crushed sandstone. Two years ago, the rover briefly climbed to the top of the northern wall of this object. Now Curiosity has returned to the gable to explore it in more detail.
But on March 18, the mission team saw an unexpected change in terrain ahead and knew they would have to turn around: the path in front of Curiosity was littered with a large number of wind-sharpened rocks or ventifacts. In such numbers, scientists have not seen them even once in almost 10 years of the rover’s work on the Red Planet.
The mission team named the area “alligator’s back” because of the reptile’s resemblance in the rock’s pattern. Previously, scientists explored the area using orbital images. Now for shooting an unusual rocky landscape, the Curiosity mast camera. The goal is to study the rocks and understand how dangerous they are for the wheels of the rover.
The study showed that “alligator rocks” are not impassable. However, the mission team decided not to. The road will be too difficult for the rover, in addition, it will quickly age the wheels of the rover.
As a result, the NASA team began plotting a new course for the rover, in which it will continue to study Mount Sharp 5.5 km high. Recall that Curiosity has been climbing it since 2014 to study the various sedimentary layers that were formed by water billions of years ago. The data is helping scientists understand whether microscopic life could have survived in the ancient Martian environment.