NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has captured a new 360-degree panorama that reveals the diverse terrain of Mount Sharp, a crucial part of the planet that plays an integral role in helping scientists study the region and learn more about its history.
One of the five rovers that NASA has sent to explore Mars, Curiosity has been sending back regular photos, such as of shimmering cloud formations in 2021 and selfies that include the massive 318-megapixel full resolution one (made up of 60 images) taken earlier this year, a tighter composition one in 2014, and a panoranomic selfie in 2013 taken in the Yellowknife Bay region of Mars’ Gale Crater.
This time around, the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, was used July 3, 2021, to capture a full 360-degree panorama that overlooks Mount Sharp, which is a 5-mile-tall mountain within the 960-mile-wide basin of Mar’s Gale Crater, reports NASA. During the time of capture, Curiosity was located somewhere between a region enriched with clay minerals and one dominated by salty minerals called sulfates, which is an area of particular interest.
At the moment, it is winter season at the rover’s location, which is why the skies in the panorama are mostly dust-free, revealing a clear view across the Gale Crater. This capture has also provided an opportunity for the mission team to reflect on the 16 miles Curiosity has so far explored throughout the mission. The darker areas of the landscape are Martian sand, made up of broken bits of volcanic rock.
NASA hopes that the mountain’s layers in this area may reveal how the ancient environment within Gale Crater dried up over time, which would reveal more information about the region — which has been a major long-term goal for the space mission — because similar changes are seen across the planet.
“The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened,” says Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Since landing on Mars on August 6th, 2012, Curiosity’s mission has been to study and explore whether different environments on the placed could have supported microbial life in the past when lakes and groundwater existed within Gale Crater. The rover uses its robotic arm drill to collect and evaluate rock samples that contribute to the study of the region.
More information and past images and videos captured by Curiosity, can be found on NASA’s website.