NASA's Curiosity captures vast emptiness of desolate Mars horizon, even as it searches for signs of life
The images are of the Gale Crater, which is a 100-mile-wide ancient basin, where the rover is trying to dig up more evidence to show that a lake existed in the region.
Wandering the desolate Red Planet and searching for signs of past life, the NASA Curiosity rover has captured fascinating pictures of the rocky, barren landscape on the 2,573rd Martian day.
The vast emptiness of Mars captured in the image (NASA and JPL-Caltech) is of the Gale Crater, which is a 100-mile-wide (150-kilometer-wide) ancient basin. The image also captures a debris-strewn butte, which lies at the foot of Aeolis Mons, the mountain at Gale's center.
Earlier in 2013, NASA announced that a lake was flowing through the crater and it might have supported microbial life. The rover has been trying to dig up more evidence to show that a lake once existed in the region.
Curiosity photographed the Martian horizon while traveling up Central Butte, a sloping rock structure where it's searching for sedimentary signals, US Geological Survey planetary geologist Kristen Bennett told CNN.
By analyzing the layers of sedimentary rock around the Central Butte on the Crater, Curiosity will allow scientists to reveal clues about the nature of water in the region in the past.
The rover, which began functioning from 2012, has provided a trove of information on Mars. It has scaled Martian mountains, discovered evidence of saltwater in its ancient craters, and even snapped a selfie with its robotic arm in the past. Just recently, the rover found more evidence of an ancient oasis that existed some 3.7 billion years ago dotting the Crater, suggesting that the planet had once hosted salty, shallow ponds — a sign of the planet's drying climate. Scientists will have a clearer idea of the origins of the ancient lake when the rover explores younger rocks on the crater's edges.
"We went to Gale Crater because it preserves this unique record of a changing Mars," says lead author William Rapin of Caltech. "Understanding when and how the planet's climate started evolving is a piece of another puzzle: When and how long was Mars capable of supporting microbial life at the surface?"
Weighing 899 kg (1,982 lb), the rover is currently in the last stage of its mission, analyzing the chemical composition of the Central Butte, taking images of different rock types otherwise invisible to the naked eye and analyzing environmental conditions near the Gale Crater.