A year ago today NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover successfully landed on the Red Planet, beginning a new chapter in exploration of what some are hoping will one day be home to our descendants.
Since it touched down onto Martian soil, Curiosity has beamed back some 190 gigabits of data about Mars. The rover immediately went to work, taking thousands of high quality pictures and then sending it back to Earth. Using its onboard laser, Curiosity singed and cooked several thousand samples of Martian rocks and soil to check for their compositions.
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Some of Curiosity’s notable achievements so far include the discovery of a stream bed deposit that, when analyzed, suggests that there may have been water running through Gale Crater millions or billions of years ago. If surface water did exist on Mars a long time ago, there may also be a possibility that remnants of past life forms are hidden somewhere.
With all the data that NASA has received so far from Curiosity one would think that the rover must have traversed hundreds or thousands of miles, but, in fact, it has travelled only about a mile. Mission control’s next major objective for Curiosity is for the rover to crawl another four or so miles to reach the base of Mount Sharp—an 18,000-foot high mound that rises up from the crater Curiosity is currently sitting in.
If all goes well and system and hardware failures are minimal, Curiosity’s journey on Mars will last for many more years, and maybe scientists will be lucky enough to discover some solid evidence that life can subsist on the extraterrestrial outback.