We have learnt so much about Mars and its atmopshere during the four year mission of Curiosity rover. The mission has recently received an extension and Curiosity will remain at the planet for two more years.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has made plenty of groundbreaking discoveries over its four-year long mission and outstandingly improved our knowledge of Mars and its dusty terrain.
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Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August, 2012. The robot was designed to study the atmosphere of the planet and to provide the evidences about whether the atmospheric conditions on Mars are conductive enough to support life. Curiosity indeed found the traces of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulphur, phosphorous and carbon in the atmosphere, all of which are necessary for supporting life on a surface.
The four-year long mission of Curiosity rover was scheduled to end this year but it has been given an extension of two years so it can continue providing intriguing details about Mars in the future as well.
“It's been a great four years – from the excitement of landing we have now had 1421 Martian days of operations and driven 13.6 km.” University of Leicester's Professor John Bridges who is continuing as part of the extended NASA science team, given a glimpse of Curiosity’s achievements during its four years long journey on Mars.
“We have learnt an enormous amount about Mars. The old idea of Mars as a simple basaltic planet that experienced a few catastrophic floods has been disproved. We have encountered ancient lakes and a silica rich curst. Our laser – ChemCam – has made over 350,000 shots on Mars and we are busily interpreting the data.”
Initially, Curiosity studied Gale Crater, a low-lying region on Mars that is estimated to be about 3.8 billion years old. Since September 2014, it has been exploring the middle region of the crater known as Mount Sharp.
Curiosity began an up-close investigation of dark sand dunes on Mars in December last year and became the first rover to study active, sand dunes anywhere besides the Earth. Ever since it has reached the Mount Sharp, the main objective of the rover is to examine the higher layers of the mountain and to understand the geological evolution of Mars.
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Talking about the future targets of Curiosity Bridges says. “Our plutonium power source can keep us going for years to come. For the next few years we will gradually climb further up Mount Sharp, at the moment we are in foothills called Murray Buttes.”