Mars Curiosity rover celebrates its first Martian year [Video]
NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrates a Martian milestone this week -- its first full Martian year exploring the Red Planet. And to celebrate, it captured that cute selfie you see above.
Years pass more slowly on Mars than they do here on Earth. Because Mars is farther from the sun than we are, it takes the Red Planet almost twice as long to complete a full orbit around the sun. A full Martian year lasts 687 Earth days.
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From the perspective of earthlings, the rover will celebrate its second anniversary on Mars on Aug. 5.
As the rover begins its second Martian year, its main focus is driving. It is currently making its way southwest from its landing site (marked as Bradbury Landing in the map above) toward Murray Buttes. The buttes have been identified as the best entry point to the rover’s ultimate destination: a 3.4-mile-high mountain called Mt. Sharp.
There, Curiosity will examine layers of rock deposited over billions of years, looking for geological clues that can help researchers better understand the planet’s ancient environment.
Mission scientists originally thought the rover would not be able to meet its main science objective -- finding out whether the Martian environment had ever been conducive to life-- until it got to the base of the mountain. However, Curiosity took care of that long ago.
After drilling into its very first rock at Yellow-Knife Bay, the rover found evidence of a lakebed with mild water that once existed on the surface. It also found that the basic chemical building blocks of life were all on hand including hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorous.
We still don’t know if life actually existed on Mars at one point, but we do know that microbial life was possible.
The white squiggle line in the map above shows the route the rover will take to get to the base of Mt. Sharp. It is about 2.4 miles from the rover’s current position, according to a NASA release -- longer than the original planned route, but scientists are hoping this one will be a little easier on the rover’s wheels.
Curiosity suffered some wheel damage at the end of 2013, forcing project scientists to slow the rover’s pace a bit, and pick routes that are less likely to have sharp, embedded rocks.
It has been a great first Martian year for Curiosity, but as we know here on Earth, years can take their toll.
For more news from the world of science, follow me @DeborahNetburn
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