Curiosity rover nearing Yellowknife Bay

December 12, 2012 by Guy Webster
The NASA Mars rover Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission's 120th Martian day, or sol (Dec. 7, 2012), to record this view of a rock outcrop informally named "Shaler." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

(—The NASA Mars rover Curiosity drove 63 feet (19 meters) northeastward early Monday, Dec. 10, approaching a step down into a slightly lower area called "Yellowknife Bay," where researchers intend to choose a rock to drill.

The drive was Curiosity's fourth consecutive driving day since leaving a site near an outcrop called "Point Lake," where it arrived last month. These drives totaled 260 feet (79 meters) and brought the mission's total to 0.37 mile (598 meters).

The route took the rover close to an outcrop called "Shaler," where scientists used Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument and Mast Camera (Mastcam) to assess the rock's composition and observe its layering. Before departure from Point Lake, a fourth sample of dusty sand that the rover had been carrying from the "Rocknest" drift was ingested and analyzed by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument.

This map traces where NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove between landing at a site subsequently named "Bradbury Landing," and the position reached during the mission's 123rd Martian day, or sol, (Aug. 10, 2012). The inset shows the most recent legs of the trraverse in greater detail. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity ended Monday's drive about 30 percent shorter than planned for the day when it detected a slight difference between two calculations of its tilt, not an immediate risk, but a trigger for software to halt the drive as a precaution. "The rover is traversing across terrain different from where it has driven earlier, and responding differently," said Rick Welch, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We're making progress, though we're still in the learning phase with this rover, going a little slower on this terrain than we might wish we could."

Curiosity is approaching a lip where it will descend about 20 inches (half a meter) to Yellowknife Bay. The rover team is checking carefully for a safe way down. Yellowknife Bay is the temporary destination for first use of Curiosity's rock-powdering drill, before the mission turns southwestward for driving to its main destination on the slope of .

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Laboratory Project and the mission's rover for 's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the rover.

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3 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2012
Every time I see one of these shale-like deposites on Mars, I get these thoughts about how cool it would be to spot a fossilized shell or coral in one.

I suppose our trip up the side of the mountain provides a chance to figure out which layers, if any, show signs of past water. That would tell you the layers you want to look at. Though deposites of debris that slide down the mountainside over time might also have such things at lower altitudes along the mountain.
2 / 5 (2) Dec 12, 2012
I doubt it when they chose a crater.... It would haven blown any trace millions of years ago...
2 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2012
It occurs to me that Spirit might no be stuck so much as "spinning" its wheels on the ice. And it also occurs to me that future planetary explorers better prepare themselves by coming equipped with proper foot gear, otherwise there'll be a lot of slipping and sliding around all over the place, because that's definitely ice!
5 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2012
that's definitely ice!

Guess in place you live ice is made of sandstone and siltstone shales. Wow. Just wow.
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 14, 2012
I doubt it when they chose a crater.... It would haven blown any trace millions of years ago

If I understand correctly, the crater is the oldest feature here. The theory is that the crater was filled with sediment, possibly including a time or times when the crater was filled with water. This would have all started as far back as 2 billion years ago. If so, that would include the time we think Mars was warmer and wetter. So the crater would be filled with layers of sediment records. Then when Mars dried out the sediment in the crater began to weather away, except in the middle.

So, if there was water on Mars in the past 2 billion years, this mountain should contain some evidence of it.

I didn't realize the scale of Mouth Sharp. This thing is actually taller from base to peak than Everest. It's equal to the tallest mountian on the moon.

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