NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on its months-long journey to a mountain-slope destination on Mount Sharp has inspected small rocks at its first waypoint along the route inside Gale Crater located on the red planet's equator.
NASA said that the location of the first waypoint, which was originally chosen based on images taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, paid off with the investigation of targets that bear evidence of ancient wet environments.
"We examined pebbly sandstone deposited by water flowing over the surface, and veins or fractures in the rock," Dawn Sumner of University of California, Davis, said in statement. "We know the veins are younger than the sandstone because they cut through it, but they appear to be filled with grains like the sandstone."
The Waypoint 1 site is the first of up to five stops planned along the 5.3-mile route in the "Glenelg" area, an entry point to the lower slope of Mount Sharp. This was also the area where Curiosity worked during the first half of 2013.
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"We want to understand the history of water in Gale Crater," Sumner said. "Did the water flow that deposited the pebbly sandstone at Waypoint 1 occur at about the same time as the water flow at Yellowknife Bay? If the same fluid flow produced the veins here and the veins at Yellowknife Bay, you would expect the veins to have the same composition.”
According to scientists, the waypoints were planned to collect information about the geology between Glenelg and Mount Sharp. Analysis of drilled samples from veined “Yellowknife Bay” rocks in the Glenelg area provided evidence of an ancient environment that could have supported microbial life.
"There's a trade-off between wanting to reach Mount Sharp as soon as we can and wanting to chew on rocks all along the way,” Kenneth Williford of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said in the statement. “Our team of more than 450 scientists has set the priority on getting to Mount Sharp, with these few brief waypoint stops.”