All eyes are on NASA’s Mars 2020 mission which is bringing the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter to the Red Planet. The new instruments and abilities of the Mars 2020 hardware will be crucial in revealing new details about our dusty orange neighbor, but there’s already a rover on Mars, and it’s continuing to do great work even after more than eight years cruising around the planet.
Curiosity, the nuclear-powered rover that arrived on Mars way back in the middle of 2012 is still going strong. It’s currently investigating a new site on the planet and taking the occasional sample, but its handlers back at NASA decided to take a moment and have the robot snap a quick selfie.
As NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains in a new blog post, Curiosity is currently hanging around an area of Mars known as Mary Anning. It’s been investigating the area since July and has been using its drill — which had been out of commission for some time — to snag some rock samples, analyze them, and then send the data back to Earth.
There is a lot of data to sift through, according to JPL, but the team is already planning out Curiosity’s next moves. “It will take months for the team to interpret the chemistry and minerals in the samples from the Mary Anning site,” NASA explains. “In the meantime, the scientists and engineers who have been commanding the rover from their homes as a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic have directed Curiosity to continue its climb of Mount Sharp. The rover’s next target of exploration is a layer of sulfate-laden rock that lies higher up the mountain. The team hopes to reach it in early 2021.”
Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover is now within 100 days of its expected landing date on Mars. The rover will be landing a significant distance from Curiosity in the Jezero crater. The crater was chosen because researchers believe it may have once been the site of an ancient lake, and that could mean that the soil and surface material still hold traces of ancient life. The new rover will take and analyze samples but also prepare them for return to Earth in the years to come. The samples will be secured and sealed and, in a future mission, they will be picked up and shot into orbit where a separate spacecraft will grab them and take them back to Earth.