Since landing on the Red Planet in August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been collecting data about the geology and chemistry of the Martian surface, finding mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars.
Curiosity has been climbing Mount Sharp—a feature that is of interest to the mission’s science team because of its geologically distinct regions—since 2014. Each region represents a different period in the history of the mountain, which rises about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater.
The rover spent nearly a year exploring Vera Rubin Ridge and is currently in an area called the “clay unit” where it recently started analyzing rock samples.
Among the targets of interest for the science team are the “sulfate-bearing unit,” where sulfate minerals may indicate the area was drying up or becoming more acidic in ancient times; and Gedis Vallis, a feature where a river may have carved a path through the sulfate unit.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.