Curiosity's 360-Degree Panorama of Gator-Back Rocks on Greenheugh
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to take this 360-degree panorama on March 23, 2022, the 3,423th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The team has informally described the wind-sharpened rocks seen here as "gator-back" rocks because of their scaly appearance.
Wind-sharpened rocks like these are called ventifacts, and are responsible for chewing up Curiosity's wheels earlier in the mission. Since then, rover engineers have found ways to slow wheel wear, including a traction control algorithm. They also plan rover routes that avoid driving over such rocks, including these latest ventifacts, which are made of sandstone – the hardest type of rock Curiosity has encountered on Mars.
These rocks form the surface of the "Greenheugh Pediment," a broad, sloping plain in the foothills of Mount Sharp. The floor of Gale Crater is visible along the edges of the mosaic. When Curiosity's team saw the gator-back rocks, they ultimately decided to turn the rover around and take an alternative path to continue climbing Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-tall (5.5-kilometer-tall) mountain that Curiosity has been ascending since 2014. As it climbs, Curiosity is able to study different sedimentary layers shaped by water billions of years ago. These layers help scientists understand whether microscopic life could have survived in the ancient Martian environment.
Curiosity was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA. JPL manages Curiosity's mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego built and operates Mastcam.