NASA has shared an incredible video touring of the surface of Mars, as captured by the Curiosity rover. The rover has been exploring the Gale Crater area since it landed in 2012, and the images it has taken show the dry, lifeless environment of the planet.
Just because Mars is without plants or animals though, that doesn’t mean it is static and unchanging. In fact, the seasons on Mars bring changes just as they do on Earth, and over millions of years, the Martian climate has changed dramatically. At one point in its history, Mars had plentiful liquid water on its surface, although this was lost over time as hydrogen evaporated away into space.
It was this period when water was plentiful that experts think it is most likely that life could have existed on the planet. That’s why both Curiosity and its sister rover Perseverance are searching for signs of ancient life in areas rich in clays, because these minerals form in the presence of water.
“The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened,” said Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The conditions in the Gale Crater right now are ideal for taking images, as it is winter so there is little dust around. That means the rover has a clear view to the very bottom of the crater, including the total of 16 miles (26 km) which Curiosity has driven so far over the course of its nine-year mission.
“Landing day is still one of the happiest days of my professional career,” said the mission’s new project manager, Megan Richardson Lin of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who has served in a number of roles in the Curiosity team over the mission. “We’re driving a robot as it explores another planet. Seeing how new discoveries and scientific results guide each day’s activities is extremely rewarding.”