NASA's Curiosity Rover Begins Next Mars Chapter
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 3, 2016

After collecting drilled rock powder in arguably the most scenic landscape 
yet visited by a Mars rover, NASA's Curiosity mobile laboratory is driving 
toward uphill destinations as part of its two-year mission extension that 
commenced Oct. 1.

The destinations include a ridge capped with material rich in the iron-oxide 
mineral hematite, about a mile-and-a-half (two-and-a-half kilometers) 
ahead, and an exposure of clay-rich bedrock beyond that.

These are key exploration sites on lower Mount Sharp, which is a layered, 
Mount-Rainier-size mound where Curiosity is investigating evidence of 
ancient, water-rich environments that contrast with the harsh, dry conditions 
on the surface of Mars today.

"We continue to reach higher and younger layers on Mount Sharp," said 
Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion 
Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "Even after four years of exploring 
near and on the mountain, it still has the potential to completely surprise 

Hundreds of photos Curiosity took in recent weeks amid a cluster of mesas 
and buttes of diverse shapes are fresh highlights among the more than 
180,000 images the rover has taken since landing on Mars in August 2012. 
Newly available vistas include the rover's latest self-portrait from the 
color camera at the end of its arm and a scenic panorama from the color 
camera at the top of the mast.

"Bidding good-bye to 'Murray Buttes,' Curiosity's assignment is the ongoing 
study of ancient habitability and the potential for life," said Curiosity 
Program Scientist Michael Meyer at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "This 
mission, as it explores the succession of rock layers, is reading the 
'pages' of Martian history -- changing our understanding of Mars and how 
the planet has evolved. Curiosity has been and will be a cornerstone in 
our plans for future missions."

The component images of the self-portrait were taken near the base of 
one of the Murray Buttes, at the same site where the rover used its drill 
on Sept. 18 to acquire a sample of rock powder. An attempt to drill at 
this site four days earlier had halted prematurely due to a short-circuit 
issue that Curiosity had experienced previously, but the second attempt 
successfully reached full depth and collected sample material. After departing 
the buttes area, Curiosity delivered some of the rock sample to its internal 
laboratory for analysis.

This latest drill site -- the 14th for Curiosity -- is in a geological 
layer about 600 feet (180 meters) thick, called the Murray formation. 
Curiosity has climbed nearly half of this formation's thickness so far 
and found it consists primarily of mudstone, formed from mud that accumulated 
at the bottom of ancient lakes. The findings indicate that the lake environment 
was enduring, not fleeting. For roughly the first half of the new two-year 
mission extension, the rover team anticipates investigating the upper 
half of the Murray formation.

"We will see whether that record of lakes continues further," Vasavada 
said. "The more vertical thickness we see, the longer the lakes were present, 
and the longer habitable conditions existed here. Did the ancient environment 
change over time? Will the type of evidence we've found so far transition 
to something else?"

The "Hematite Unit" and "Clay Unit" above the Murray formation were identified 
from Mars orbiter observations before Curiosity's landing. Information 
about their composition, from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer 
aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, made them high priorities as 
destinations for the rover mission. Both hematite and clay typically form 
in wet environments.

Vasavada said, "The Hematite and the Clay units likely indicate different 
environments from the conditions recorded in older rock beneath them and 
different from each other. It will be interesting to see whether either 
or both were habitable environments."

NASA approved Curiosity's second extended mission this summer on the basis 
of plans presented by the rover team. Additional extensions for exploring 
farther up Mount Sharp may be considered in the future. The Curiosity 
mission has already achieved its main goal of determining whether the 
landing region ever offered environmental conditions that would have been 
favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life. The mission 
found evidence of ancient rivers and lakes, with a chemical energy source 
and all of the chemical ingredients necessary for life as we know it.

The mission is also monitoring the modern environment of Mars, including 
natural radiation levels. Along with other robotic missions to the Red 
Planet, it is an important piece of NASA's Journey to Mars, leading toward 
human crew missions in the 2030s. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, 
California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science 
Mission Directorate and built the project's Curiosity rover. For more 
information about Curiosity, visit:

News Media Contact
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077 /



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