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Curiosity Rover Covers New Ground

Jul 10, 2014 09:18 AM EDT
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The Mars rover Curiosity has just crossed into new territory, driving out of the ellipse that was predetermined to be "safe" terrain for initial landing and exploration in 2012.
(Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

The Mars rover Curiosity has just crossed into new territory, driving out of the ellipse that was predetermined to be "safe" terrain for initial landing and exploration in 2012.

Without much pomp and circumstance, the Curiosity rover quietly rolled over the "safe terrain" line on June 27, entering new and unexplored parts of the massive Gale Crater. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the rover in this important moment.

Four miles wide and 12 miles long, the safe terrain boundary was an extensively mapped out part of the crater deemed safest for touching down on the Red Planet at the start of the latest Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2012. Now leaving it, the rover is bound to tackle some more difficult terrain, even with its course having been carefully potted out by space agency experts.

According to a NASA release, "Curiosity was designed to have the capability of driving far enough to get to slopes outside of the landing ellipse," but since landing two years ago, the rover has only driven a total of about five miles.

So what has the rover been doing if it's not doing much 'roving?' NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity's specially designed instruments to assess Martian conditions, looking specifically for signs that the Red Planet could have once been home to life.

Last month, on the rover's Martian year anniversary, Curiosity snapped a "selfie" of itself traversing the grounds of the Gale Crater - land that was likely once covered by massive ancient glaciers and even pockets of chilled water, according to recent scientific observation.

While these observations were made without the help of Curiosity's first-hand data, experts from NASA and the ESA hope that the rover's new exploration of the crater will reveal more telling tales.

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