Mars rover Curiosity: the interesting is just beginning

    A couple of weeks ago, NASA officials extended the funding of the Curiosity expedition, but at the same time complained that the rover drives too much and does not study much. The day before yesterday, the scientific team replied: “But we have already arrived!”. True, many journalists understood them literally: that’s all, they’ve arrived, the goal has been achieved, but in reality the rover is just starting its main scientific program, for which it was sent.

    For more than a year, Curiosity moved along Sharpe Mountain, circling the black sand blockages at the foot, and approaching a more promising, from the point of view of science, terrain. As a guideline, a conditional Entry Point was chosen, from which it was planned to move to storm the mountains. Suddenly rough terrain and hard stones along the way led to increased wear on the wheels, so the rover had to move slower, carefully choosing a route, avoiding dangerous placers.

    Two earthly years passed - as much as was allocated to the entire mission, and the goals - Mount Sharpe, and even the Point of Entry - were still far away. But the protracted run brought the results - Curiosity got to the ravines, at the bottom of which were expected rocks that had not previously been encountered. In addition, the bottom of the ravines beckoned with soft sand, on which it would be possible to move safely for the wheels.

    The rover rushed to conquer the Hidden Valley ravine, but the sand threw surprises. Those dunes that were previously encountered along the way, and which cover the bottom of the ravines, actually do not consist of sand, but of a finer fraction, which American geologists call silt, and our "silt" is a transitional form between sand and dust. In terms of mechanical properties, Martian silt is most similar to cement or cocoa powder. The rover was tested in the desert, but on ordinary sand, so the behavior on such a surface on Mars was unstable.

    The dunes were deep. And although Curiosity did not sink or elm in them, the movement in the dunes was considered unpredictable and dangerous.

    The rover handed back, and on the way back discovered a curious light rock, which was called Bonanza King - the term of the gold rush since the rich ore mine.

    Along the way, another Martian solar eclipse was shot:

    Curiosity made ready for drilling. He checked the stability of his position, attached to the stone with a drill.

    Pay attention to the push that occurs after touching the ground with two stops. This rover simulates the load that a drill needs.

    The next test was for vibration.

    The test result showed that the rock is too loose and the place for the well was selected poorly. I had to abandon this venture and leave the Hidden Valley. At the same time, Bonanza King did not disappoint. Analysis by a ChemCam spectrometer showed an increased silicon content, and in such a concentration that it was practically not encountered during the entire study of Mars.

    In the picture you can see the result of two tools at once: the marks to the right of the ChemCam laser, and the trace from the DRT brush to the left.

    Only Spirit found more silicon when he unearthed the deposition of pure silicon dioxide, in the form of white sand.

    Bonanza King had to leave. Passing by, and having carefully looked around, Curiosity chose a new target in the ravines, and again fearlessly moved forward. This time, the hollow was called Amargosa Valley. It is much more spacious and not all blocked by dunes, so you can go.

    And here is the 360-degree spherical panorama of the entrance to the Amargosa Valley, collected and processed by photo artist Andrei Bodrov (the screen is clickable, it’s better to open it in a new tab): The goal for the study was named Pahrump Hills. It represents the exit of a layer of light rock. More silicon is expected to be discovered there.

    The planetary crust, that of the Earth, that of Mars is largely composed of silicon, so it’s not so much interesting as it is, but its concentration. It is believed that water played an important role in the enrichment of the rock with silicon. In addition, the crystalline form of silicon found will tell more about the tectonic history of Mars, about how the planet’s crust was formed. Previous Mars rovers did not have the possibility of crystallographic research.

    After the Pahrump Hills, NASA scientists decided to change the route, forget about the previously designated Entry Point, and move immediately to the mountain. Just a few days ago it was thought: “if only the scientists would not drive Curiosity back to the coast, but already move along the ravines to the mountain ...” And please: dreams come true. At the same time, we saved a kilometer.

    Ahead is expected a lot of interesting things:
    six-meter table mountains of Murray Buttes;

    the oldest surface of the Murray Formation, which still remembers the impact of the asteroid that gave rise to the Gale crater, and other impacts from the time of heavy meteorite bombardment ;

    hypnotic, in their blackness, sand dunes, which for a long time did not allow the rover to the mountain;

    A hematite ridge , which may turn out to be the remains of an ancient river in which (possibly) chemolithotrophic bacteria lived;

    clay deposits that could preserve organics;

    a deep canyon washed by glacial waters in sulfate deposits, not so interesting from the point of view of astrobiology, but from the side of art photography;

    and finally, boxwork deposits, at an altitude of 800 meters from the foot, which may appear to be a dry and petrified bottom of the sea bay, which once filled the Gale Crater.

    Now this boxwork is considered the final point of the Curiosity route, but whether it can get there and stay there forever, now it cannot be said. We will see.

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