NASA’s Curiosity rover just celebrated its 3,000th day on Mars by taking a remarkable picture of the Red Planet.
The rover, which landed on the Martian surface on Aug. 6, 2012, took the image of the Gale Crater, including Mount Sharp, the massive mountain located inside the crater. In a statement accompanying the accomplishment, NASA said there were a «series of rock ‘benches'» seen in the image that surprised scientists.
«Our science team is excited to figure out how they formed and what they mean for the ancient environment within Gale,» said Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.
The panoramic image is the composite of 122 images that were taken on Nov. 18, 2020, the 2,946th sol (or day) on Mars. A Martian sol is slightly longer than a day on Earth, at 24 hours, 39 minutes.
In August, the Curiosity Mars rover celebrated eight years on the Red Planet. At the time, NASA marked the achievement, noting it had traveled more than 14 miles at that point, drilling into 26 rock samples and collecting six samples of soil to determine that ancient Mars «was indeed suitable for life.»
The rover has made a number of discoveries during its time on Mars, including the detection of an «unusually high» level of methane on the Red Planet.
As of August 2019, scientists were still not sure what caused the methane. Some scientists have ruled out that the spike was caused by wind erosion of rocks that had trapped the methane from fluid inclusions and fractures on the Red Planet’s surface.
On Earth, methane is produced both from biological and geological sources.
In 2018, NASA revealed that the rover had found organic molecules.
In addition, the rover has taken a multitude of pictures of the planet, as well as those of Earth and Venus from its vantage point. In August 2020, the rover spotted a dust devil traveling across the surface of Mars.
The Curiosity rover will be joined on the Red Planet by the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which is scheduled to land on Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb 18, 2021. The mission’s duration on the Red Planet’s surface is at least one Martian year or about 687 days.