Curiosity approaches first anniversary on Mars

Curiosity approaches first anniversary on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main goal of revealing that the ancient Red planet could...

NASA's Curiosity rover will mark one year on Mars next week and has already achieved its main goal of revealing that the ancient Red planet could have supported life, the US space agency said. The mobile laboratory also is guiding designs for future planetary missions."Successes of our Curiosity - that dramatic touchdown a year ago and the science findings since then - advance us toward further exploration, including sending humans to an asteroid and Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

After its successful landing in a crater on the Red Planet on August 6, 2012, Curiosity has provided more than 190 gigabits of data, returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images, and fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets. It has also collected and analysed sample material from two rocks; and driven more than 1.6 kilometres. Curiosity, which is the size of a car, travelled 699 meters in the past four weeks since leaving a group of science targets where it worked for more than six months.

The rover is making its way to the base of Mount Sharp, where it will investigate lower layers of a mountain that rises three miles from the floor of the crater. The mountain has exposed geological layers, including ones identified by Mars orbiters as originating in a wet environment. Scientists decided first to investigate closer outcrops where the mission quickly found signs of vigorous ancient stream flow. These were the first streambed pebble deposits ever examined up close on Mars, NASA said.

Evidence of a past environment well suited to support microbial life came within the first eight months of the 23-month primary mission from analysis of the first sample material ever collected by drilling into a rock on Mars.

"We now know Mars offered favourable conditions for microbial life billions of years ago," said the mission's project scientist, John Grotzinger."It has been gratifying to succeed, but that has also whetted our appetites to learn more. We hope those enticing layers at Mount Sharp will preserve a broad diversity of other environmental conditions that could have affected habitability," Grotzinger said.

The mission measured natural radiation levels on the trip to Mars and is monitoring radiation and weather on the surface of Mars, which will be helpful for designing future human missions to the planet, researchers said. The Curiosity mission also found evidence Mars lost most of its original atmosphere through processes that occurred at the top of the atmosphere.

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