Epic Panorama Taken by Curiosity Rover Shows 6 Years of Mars Exploration in 1 Photo
After six years of exploring Mars, Curiosity has only traveled a total of about 11 miles across the Martian surface.
Despite the short distance, however, the rover has made some breakthrough discoveries: it has proven that Mars could have once supported life (based on chemicals found in the soil), shown that the surface radiation of the planet is much higher than NASA previously believed (meaning that we're going to have to prepare Martian colonists for more rads), and turned up a disappointing lack of methane in the atmosphere (which may mean that Mars doesn't have any life on it now).
Now Curiosity has hit a new milestone—it's recently scaled Vera Rubin Ridge, located within Gale Crater, and gained a higher elevation than ever before.
Its vantage point has allowed the rover to take a new panorama shot of everywhere it's been so far, as well as parts of the crater that it will go to next. Best of all, the clarity of the panorama is amazing:
"Curiosity's exact landing spot on the floor of the crater lies out of sight behind a slight rise, but the scene includes "Yellowknife Bay." That's where, in 2013, the mission found evidence of an ancient freshwater-lake environment that offered all of the basic chemical ingredients for microbial life. Farther north are the channel and fan of Peace Vallis, relics of the streams that carried water and sediment into the crater about three billion years ago."
The next stop on Curiosity's mission will be an area of Gale Crater called the Clay Unit, where the rover will examine a clay deposit. Unfortunately for NASA scientists, the drill used by the rover has gotten a little wonky since the mission began—they'll be testing it on the Ridge before they use it to investigate the clay deposit, but it's unknown if the drill will be able to function anymore.
Considering Curiosity fulfilled it's primary mission (to prove that life could have existed on the planet in the past) years ago, we're considering all this a bonus.