The Martian Curiosity Looks Back on 1000 Sols of Exploration on the Red Planet

Looking back 1000 Sols on the Red Planet
NASA’s Martian Curiosity rover looks backs to 1000 Sols of science and exploration on the surface of the Red Planet. Robot wheel tracks lead back through valley dunes. Gale Crater rim seen in the distant hazy background. Sol 997 (May 28, 2015) navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/
Featured on APOD on June 13, 2015
Story updated[/caption]

The Martian Curiosity celebrates 1000 Sols on Mars!

Marking the occasion with utter glee, the car sized robot snapped a cool mosaic view (above) looking back to 1000 Sols of high impact exploration and discovery on the Red Planet, showing her wheel tracks leading back through valley dunes from the foothills of humongous Mount Sharp and across the alien surface floor and out to the distant rim of the Gale Crater landing site she descended to nearly three years ago in August 2012.

“A thousand thanks to the best team a rover could have. Celebrating 1,000 sols. Here’s to the Martian days ahead!” the robot tweeted.

But at 1K sols she’s not content to just bask in the Martian sunshine during the history making event. Rather, she is as always hard at work, reaching out with the high tech robotic arm and inspecting intriguing rock outcrops spread out all around her.

Check out Curiosity’s current workspace, looking back and hard at work in our new photo mosaics herein created by the imaging team of Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer. They are also featured at NBC News – here – and Alive Space Images (in Italian) – here and here.

Curiosity rover at work for 1000 Sols on Mars
This composite multi sol photo mosaic shows outstretched robotic arm inspecting intriguing rock outcrops. The APXS spectrometer is investigating a target called ‘Ronan’ on the Stimson overlying outcrop. Navcam camera raw images taken from sols 997 to 1000 are stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

The raw images for the look back mosaic were taken after she arrived at her current location on Martian Sol 997, or Earth’s Day May 28, 2015.

The Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover officially celebrated 1000 Martian Sols on May 31, 2015 since she safely touched down on the crater floor on August 5, 2012 following the nail-biting and unprecedented sky crane maneuver that delivered her with pinpoint precision to a landing site nearby Mount Sharp.

“An MSL landmark day. We have reached 1000 sols on Mars. Looking back the remarkable thing is how few serious problems there have been,” says team member Professor John Bridges of the University of Leicester, England, in an update.

Exploring the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, form the primary destination and goal of her scientific expedition.

The six wheeled robot and her team of handlers back on Earth, are eeking out every last drop of science before she and all of Earth’s entire Martian invasion fleet enter solar conjunction, when Mars is behind the sun and little or no communications will be possible for most of the month of June. Activities will be limited per safety protocols.

“However, there is one issue even Curiosity can’t avoid – Conjunction. For much of June, Mars will be obscured from Earth by the Sun. Few science operations,” explains Bridges.

Curiosity rover rolls across Mars at the foothills of Mount Sharp, seen in the background, in this mosaic of images taken on April 11, 2015 (Sol 952). Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/

NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover labors on the opposite side of Mars.

After a short drive Curiosity arrived at her current location at “Marias Pass” on Sol 997, where she will stay stationary during the conjunction period out of an abundance of caution.

“A short bump on Sol 997 put Curiosity in a great position to investigate a few different rock units in Marias Pass, using the instruments on the rover’s arm,” wrote MSL and USGS mission scientist Ken Herkenhoff in an update.

She also reached within an eyelash of 10.6 kilometers (6.6 mi) of total driving.

“The 2.5 m drive brings our total odometry to 10,599 m,” noted Herkenoff.

Along the way she discovered the chemical ingredient minerals necessary to support life, as well as low levels of some organic molecules and some traces of methane, and and ample evidence for lakes and streams of liquid water.

“Curiosity is now parked for the next few weeks. But we are parked in front of a beautiful outcrop that shows the contact between the underlying Pahrump unit and the overlying Stimson unit.”

Our arm photo mosaic herein shows the seven foot (2 m) long robotic arm and its APXS spectrometer deployed at the target called “Ronan”, which is part of the overlying Stimson outcrop unit.

The rover is also using the ChemCam, MastCam and MAHLI cameras and spectrometers and other instruments to characterize the outcrop and its texture and composition in detail.

The robotic arm will be stowed during the June conjunction period.

Curiosity arrived at the Pahrump Hills at the base of Mount Sharp back in September 2014. Since then she has conducted an intensive investigation of the rocks and a trio of drilling operations to elucidate how this area fits in context with Mount Sharp and the habitable region discovered on the crater floor at Yellowknife Bay back in the spring of 2013.

In recent weeks, Curiosity has been driving up hills with slopes of as much as 21 degrees, higher than ever before, on an exciting journey endeavoring to slowly ascend up to the lower layers of Mount Sharp.

The current Martian outcrop area under investigation is a place where two distinctive geologic types of bedrock meet and where pale rock meets darker overlying rock.

“Such contacts can reveal clues about how the environmental conditions that produced one type of rock were related to the conditions that produced the other,” says NASA.

“The rover science team wants to examine an outcrop that contains the contact between the pale rock unit the mission analyzed lower on Mount Sharp and a darker, bedded rock unit that the mission has not yet examined up close.”

The team is also scouting around for the presence of mineral veins, like those recently discovered at the “Garden City” outcrop, that formed in the past during periods of flowing liquid water that could be favorable for microbial life forms if they ever existed.

Curiosity investigates a beautiful outcrop of scientifically enticing dark and light mineral veins at ”Garden City” outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp at current location on Mars. This photo mosaic was stitched from Mastcam color camera raw images. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

Because there’s a plethora of treacherous dunes, the team has had to monitor operations carefully and alter the route on occasion to maintain safe operations.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary objective of discovering a habitable zone on the Red Planet that contains the minerals necessary to support microbial life in the ancient past when Mars was far wetter and warmer billions of years ago.

This March 6, 2015 (Sol 917), mosaic of images from the Navcam camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the position in which the rover held its arm for several days after a transient short circuit triggered onboard fault-protection programming to halt arm activities on Feb. 27, 2015, Sol 911. The rover team chose to hold the arm in the same position for several days of tests to diagnose the underlying cause of the Sol 911 event. Navcam camera raw images stitched and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/ Di Lorenzo

To date, Curiosity’s odometer totals over 5.1 miles (8.4 kilometers) since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012.

As of today, Sol 1001, June 1, 2015, she has taken over 246,000 amazing images.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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