The newly landed Perseverance rover is understandably stealing much of the limelight these days, which means Curiosity — after 10 years of faithful service — is suddenly having to play second fiddle. Curiosity’s latest selfie reminds us that the six-wheeled probe is very much still around and doing important scientific work, thank you very much.
Curiosity new self-portrait is set in front of Mont Mercou — a 6.10 m-tall rock formation inside Gale Crater. Taken on March 26, the image was stitched together from 60 different photographs. Curiosity has taken many selfies over the years, and it’s fair to say we’ll never tire of these postcards from the surface of an alien world.
The rover also captured a stereoscopic view of the outcrop, which it did by taking 32 photos from two slightly different positions but at a fixed distance of 40 metres. By studying the outcrop from multiple vantage points, scientists “get a better idea of the 3D geometry of Mount Mercou’s sedimentary layers,” according to NASA.
Earlier this month, Curiosity used its Mastcam to take 126 images that were compiled to create a 360-degree view of its surroundings, including Mont Mercou.
The rover’s current location looks strikingly different from its previous area of investigation — a region known as the “clay-bearing unit.” NASA is sending the rover up the slopes of the 5 km-tall Mount Sharp to its next target, the “sulfate-bearing unit,” and its current location near Mont Mercou represents a transitional zone between the two sites. As NASA points out in its press release, the transitional area could hold clues about why and how Mars turned into a desert wasteland.
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But it was not all fun ‘n selfies for the rover as it loitered near Mont Mercou, as NASA’s Curiosity team commanded the vehicle perform its 30th drill session of its career, resulting in a hole now known as Nontron. The rover, after pulverising the rock into a fine dust, placed a sample of the material inside its built-in chemistry lab for analysis. Nontron is borrowed from “nontronite,” a type of clay mineral found near Nontron, France.
So the mission on Mars continues for Curiosity, despite all the cool stuff that Perseverance is doing, or will be doing shortly, like dispatching the Ingenuity helicopter. Hopefully in 10 years time we’ll likewise think of Perseverance as the grizzled veteran, as some young, sexy new rover steals the spotlight yet again.