Curiosity rover on fresh drive to explore life

Curiosity rover on fresh drive to explore life
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After collecting some key samples on the Red Planet for the past four years, NASA\'s Curiosity rover is driving toward uphill destinations as part of its two-year mission extension that commenced from October 1.

Washington: After collecting some key samples on the Red Planet for the past four years, NASA's Curiosity rover is driving toward uphill destinations as part of its two-year mission extension that commenced from October 1.

The destinations include a ridge capped with material rich in the iron-oxide mineral hematite, about two-and-half km ahead and an exposure of clay-rich bedrock beyond that.

These are key exploration sites on lower Mount Sharp where Curiosity is currently investigating evidence of ancient, water-rich environments that contrast with the harsh, dry conditions on the surface of Mars today.

"We continue to reach higher and younger layers on Mount Sharp. Even after four years of exploring near and on the mountain, it still has the potential to completely surprise us," said Indian-origin project scientist Ashwin Vasavada from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Curiosity has taken more than 180,000 images since landing on Mars in August 2012. Newly available vistas include the rover's latest self-portrait from the colour camera at the end of its arm and a scenic panorama from the colour camera at the top of the mast.

"Curiosity's assignment is the ongoing study of ancient habitability and the potential for life," said Curiosity Programme Scientist Michael Meyer from NASA.

This latest drill site -- the 14th for Curiosity -- is in a geological layer about 600 feet thick called the Murray formation.

Curiosity has climbed nearly half of this formation's thickness so far and found it consists primarily of mudstone, formed from mud that accumulated at the bottom of ancient lakes.

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