Right in this moment, Curiosity is walking on Martian sand. Maybe ‘walking’ is not the most correct term but that is just a technicality. NASA and space enthusiasts all over the world celebrate the Rover’s finding of real sand dunes on the surface of the Red Planet.
Not only that Curiosity is leaving its footprints in Martian sand right as we speak, but the curious Rover has also send photos of it to its team on Earth. It is for the first time when sand has been found by humans anywhere else in the Universe, but on Earth.
The sand dunes on which Curiosity is hiking are part of the ‘Bagnold Dunes’, situated on the north-western side of Mount Sharp, which is inside the Gale Crater.
The Rover will now filter the sand and sample it, before analyzing its structure in its onboard superlab. Besides the lab, Curiosity is also using its wheels to examine the dunes of sand.
Observing the dunes from the Red Planet’s orbit, scientists have already been able to determine that their edges are moving with up to three feet every year.
Mount Sharp, on which the dunes are formed, is almost 3 miles tall and its lower edges are exposing hundreds of rocky layers. These layers have been left behind by a huge lake and rivers that were once present on the Martian surface while also showing traces of wind action. With Curiosity’s help, the astronomers have been able to determine that in that place it used to be a huge long-lasting lake.
Actually, scientists believe that Gale Crater hosted more lakes, lasting about 10,000 years each, a long enough time for life to be supported.
Currently, the Rover is analyzing Murray formation – a 500 feet high section of the lowest layers of sediments.
NASA’s project called Mars Science Laboratory Projects operates Curiosity Rover in its mission to find out more about the changes experienced by the Red Planet over the last millions of years. One of the most important discoveries of Curiosity were traces of water on Mars. Now, scientists are hoping that the Rover will be able to find traces of ancient life on the Red Planet and potentially habitable environments.
MSLP is one of the projects developed by NASA to prepare the human mission on the Red Planet in 2030. Our future as a multi-planetary species depends on Curiosity’s findings.
Image source: JPL/NASA