It has been nine long years since NASA’s Curiosity rover has been on Mars. The car-sized rover was launched in November 2011 and it touched down on the Red Planet on August 6, 2012. It has sent back enormous volumes of data and helped humans have a better and wider understanding of Mars.
“I’m celebrating my 9th landiversary on Mars. In 2012, I hit the ground running. I’ve travelled a total of 16.3 mi (26.3 km), climbed 1,509 ft (460 m) in elevation & collected 32 drilled samples. Time flies when you’re doing science. Thanks for riding along!” read a tweet from the official handle of the Curiosity rover.
Curiosity has so far travelled 26.3 km on the Red Planet, collecting 32 drilled samples. The rover is powered by a nuclear system and the team that operates it says that it can last up to 14 years.
The Curiosity rover has played a tremendous role in Mars exploration and helping expand their understanding of the Red Planet. One of the major takeaways from the rover is the study of how the planet has changed over time. Its findings also pointed to the likelihood of the Gale Crater having a lake and stream like system. This suggests that it could have been capable of supporting life systems akin to Earth.
In addition to that, the rover sent tonnes of data and samples back to Earth, which has played a major role in understanding the geography and climate of Mars. The samples upon study showed how the climate in Mars was once warm and how it has now turned cold.
It has also discovered the presence of water in its liquid form on the planet’s surface, further adding up to the list of things known about the planet. The samples collected from Mars have also shown the presence of carbon and other organic chemicals. Methane gas was also discovered on the planet. Methane is most commonly generated by living beings, but it can also be created through non-living or abiotic processes. Overall, the discovery and presence of methane continue to remain a mystery.
The rover is accompanied by NASA’s InSight lander and the Perseverance rover. The InSight landed over three years ago in March 2018.
Modelled heavily on Curiosity, the main mission of Perseverance is to investigate the origins of life on the Red Planet. It is exploring for signs of ancient life on Mars and is gathering samples that will be sent to Earth. It is equipped with several modern apparatus, one of which is the Ingenuity helicopter.