Curiosity's Path to Gediz Vallis Ridge and Beyond
This animation shows the route NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has taken while driving up the lower part of 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) Mount Sharp. In August 2023, Curiosity was near the top end of Gediz Vallis Ridge (shown in red.) The rover's past and future path is illustrated by the pale line through the landscape.
Different layers of Mount Sharp represent different eras of Martian history. As Curiosity ascends, scientists learn more about how the landscape changed over time. The rover is currently in the sulfate-bearing unit (colored gold in this animation), which may be the highest elevation layer it will ever visit. Sulfates are salty minerals that form as water is drying up, and the sulfate-bearing layer is believed to represent a transition to a drier climate 3 billion years ago on ancient Mars. (The green-colored area, the Greenheugh Pediment, is a separate layer that cuts across the sulfate-bearing unit and the clay-bearing unit, which the rover explored from 2019 until entering the sulfate-bearing unit last year.)
Near the top of this animation is Gediz Vallis Channel, a snake-like path reminiscent of river channels on Earth. Further down, the channel is buried by debris flows that carried mud and boulders farther down the mountain. That material – most of it from the upper layers of Mount Sharp – is believed to have spread into a debris fan that was later eroded by wind into the towering Gediz Vallis Ridge. The ridge is thus a rare opportunity to study material from higher-elevation layers Curiosity will never reach.
Curiosity sought to visit the ridge several times in the past, including when it tried to drive across the Greenheugh Pediment. The rover was forced to turn back (as seen in the lower left of the animation) because of knife-sharp "gator-back" rocks that would have damaged its wheels. Other attempts to reach the ridge proved too steep.
Finally, after one of the most difficult climbs the mission has faced, Curiosity arrived Aug. 14, 2023, at an area where it could study the long-sought ridge with its 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm.
Curiosity was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more about Curiosity, visit: http://mars.nasa.gov/msl