NASA Mars Curiosity Rover Targets New Drilling Site

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NASA’s Curiosity rover continues its travel across the Martian surface.Scientists have now identified a new rock for a drilling target. Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said in a press release that the new drilling site should provide more information about the geological history of Mars. The new drilling site is a rock called “Bonanza King.”

NASA looking for evidence of environmental changes on ancient Mars

The Curiosity team had originally anticipated the rover to reach the “Pahrumpm Hills” by mid-August. But the ‘Hidden Valley’ sand trap caused the rover to reverse course last week. So, scientists at NASA controlling the rover were forced to choose a new site. Vasavada said the Bonanza King closely resembles the Pahrumpm Hills outcrop. Studying the Bonanza King rocks will help researchers understand how they fit the bigger picture of Mount Sharp and Gale Crater.

The rover’s long-term destination is Mount Sharp, a 5.5-kilometer high mountain in the center of the Mars’ Gale Crater. NASA believes the stack of layers on Mount Sharp may hold evidence of environmental changes on ancient Mars. Curiosity landed on the Gale Crater in August 2012. So far, it has drilled three rocks, but all of them were associated with the crater floor instead of the mountain itself.

NASA has to find an alternative route for Curiosity to reach Mount Sharp

The $2.5 billion rover had been heading for Mount Sharp via Hidden Valley, which is a sandy swale. But Curiosity found the sand surprisingly slippery. So, NASA turned it back earlier this month. The space agency said there is no way out of the Hidden Valley except its southwestern and northeastern ends. Now NASA team is looking for alternative routes that would take the rover north of the valley to reach the Mount Sharp.

Curiosity’s goal is to determine whether Mars ever had a suitable environment to support microbial life. The rover found that Yellowknife bay, an area near its landing site, was a habitable lake system billions of years ago. Curiosity had drilled two different rocks in Yellowknife bay last year. It drilled another rock sample this year. Bonanza King, which lies on the northeastern end of Hidden Valley, will be Curiosity’s fourth drilling site.

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