NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been orbiting the red planet for 3000 Mars days. The rover has been there for more than eight years and made all kinds of discoveries. It won’t be long before successor Perseverance arrives. The missions of InSight and Juno will also be extended.
Curiosity achieves milestone
The milestone of 3000 sols has now been achieved. A sol is the name for a Mars day, which lasts slightly longer than a day on Earth, namely 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds. Curiosity landed on Mars on August 6, 2012. According to NASA, the rover continues to make new discoveries as it gradually climbs Mount Sharp, the 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) mountain that has been under investigation since 2014. This mountain is the rover’s final destination.
Curiosity just after landing in 2012 (left) and six years later, somewhat dusty, during a sandstorm.
The purpose of Curiosity’s mission was to investigate whether there may have been life on Mars. To this end, the rover searched for chemical elements, traces in the soil and water, but also looked at the climate and geology. At the end of 2014, Curiosity discovered organic molecules containing the building blocks for life and traces of acidic water were also discovered. Furthermore, the curious rover discovered a dry riverbed, which indicated the presence of water in the past.
Curiosity also proves to be a true tourist. He can’t resist taking regular photos. Last year, the device created the largest Martian panorama to date, consisting of 1.8 billion pixels. Not long ago, Curiosity created a new panorama, based on 122 individual images merged. This new panorama was taken on sol 2946, or November 18 last year. This photo shows the necessary ‘benches’ in the form of rocks and on the far right the upper part of Mount Sharp is visible.
The panorama from November 18, taken with Curiosity’s Mastcam. In the center is the Gale Crater visible, a 154km wide basin containing Mount Sharp.
Perseverance approaching, InSight and Juno continue
It won’t be long before Curiosity will be joined by its successor, Perserverance. This new rover is due to land on Mars on February 18. The rover has upgraded equipment on board. For example, the navigation cameras will be upgraded from 1 to 20 megapixels and cameras with zoom lenses have been incorporated into the mast. Due to the significant modification of the navigation system for the autonomous landing, Perseverance can land much more accurately and explore a completely different area. For exploring, this new rover also features a helicopter.
Curiosity has been active for much longer than originally planned and that seems to be the case for InSight as well. This mission has been extended for a period of two years, until December 2022. The goal of InSight is to achieve a high-quality, long-term seismic dataset. InSight was launched primarily to answer questions about the structure and energetics of the interior of the planet Mars. To find out more, the Mars lander will measure the thickness of the crust, the size and the density of the core, among other things. InSight will also map how much heat is emitted from the planet and how high the speed of seismic waves in the mantle is. The latter is an indication of the structure of the mantle; this is the layer that lies directly under the crust.
According to a NASA review panel, the InSight mission has produced “exceptional scientific findings,” albeit not always smooth sailing. For example, InSight previously had trouble drilling the probe that was supposed to measure the temperature of the soil. The robot also got stuck in the ground.
Juno (left) and InSight
Juno’s mission will also be extended until September 2025. Juno is a spacecraft that orbits Jupiter. Thanks to this probe, discoveries have been made about Jupiter’s inner structure, the magnetic field and the magnetosphere. It was concluded from the findings that atmospheric dynamics are a lot more complex than previously thought. During the extension, Juno does not just continue with specific observations of Jupiter. The probe will also target Jupiter’s rings and its major moons, including close-by Ganymede, Europa and Io.