NASA shares stunning visuals captured by Curiosity; details Mars’ changing landscape

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has stumbled across a puzzle in the Gale crater that it can’t wait to solve. Recently, the rover’s team shared pictures of the site Curiosity is currently exploring and highlighted the changing landscape of the red planet. According to the team, Curiosity is trekking through what is called a ‘transition zone’ which has clear signs that water once flowed in the region.

What did Curiosity find?

(Image: NASA)

The image above was taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera or MastCam and features layered, flaky rocks believed to have formed in a small pond. According to the mission team, the rover has travelled through the transition zone for the past year and has come across regions ranging from those rich in clay to the ones filled with a salty mineral called sulfate.

“While the science team targeted the clay-rich region and the sulfate-laden one, for evidence each can offer about Mars’ watery past, the transition zone is proving to be scientifically fascinating as well”, the rover’s handlers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a statement.

They also believe that the transition zone might provide the record of a major shift in the red planet’s climate billions of years ago, something which scientists are yet to fully understand. The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012, has been ascending the foothills of a five-kilometre-tall mountain named Mount Sharp since 2014. During its climb, the rover has spotted clay minerals that must have formed when lakes and streams once rippled across Gale Crater.

“We no longer see the lake deposits that we saw for years lower on Mount Sharp”, Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at JPL said in a statement. “Instead, we see lots of evidence of drier climates, like dry dunes that occasionally had streams running around them. That’s a big change from the lakes that persisted for perhaps millions of years before,” he added.

Notably, the mission team revealed that as Curiosity climbs higher through the transition zone, it is detecting less clay and more sulfate. In a few days, the rover will drill the last rock samples in this region to help scientists learn more about Mars’ changing mineral composition.