NASA's Curiosity Mars rover resembles a toy car in new photographs taken in December by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The track marks seen trailing the probe reveal where the rover was forced to zigzag around obstacles during its steady march toward the lower slopes of Mount Sharp. Located inside Gale Crater, Mount Sharp is a mountain whose peak stretches 3.4 miles high. By digging through its many layers, researchers hope to get a better look into the planet's environmental shifts throughout the years.
Despite its steady progress, however, the probe has begun to show evidence of wear and tear. Back in December, NASA reported that Curiosity's wheels are beginning to feel their age.
"Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so," Jim Erickson, project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, said in a statement, noting that rough terrain is likely to blame.
When the picture was taken, Curiosity had driven nearly 3 miles since it landed in Gale Crater in August 2012. Since it landed, the probe has made several important discoveries, including evidence of ancient stream flow and a rock containing key elements for life, such as hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen and carbon. Its failure to detect any traces of methane, however, has left scientists skeptical when it comes to uncovering life that currently calls the Red Planet home.
Taken with the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, the new pictures were obtained Dec. 11 at 3:02 p.m. local Mars time. For scale, the two parallel lines left by the wheel tracks are roughly 10 feet apart.
HiRISE is one of MRO's six instruments dedicated to searching for evidence that water existed on Mars' surface for a prolonged period. First launched in 2005, the mission met all its science goals during its two-year primary science phase. It has since undergone two extensions, the latest of which began in 2010.
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