NASA's Curiosity rover shown here in a stunning "selfie" image in front of Mont Mercou composed out of a total of 71 images from the Mars Hand Lens Imager and the Mastcam on the top of the rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity Reveals Stunning Martian Landscape On New Research Location

Earlier this month, Curiosity reached its new research location - Mont Mercou. Since then, the rover has been sending panoramas, selfies, drilling images, and even photos of Martian clouds.

Earlier in March, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had reached the foot of Mont Mercou on Mars after a long climb. Over the past couple of weeks, the rover has been studying rocks that could reveal the secrets of the ancient past of the Red Planet.

This was the first high-resolution panorama image of Mont Mercou sent by the Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / Kevin M. Gill - CC BY 2.0
This was the first high-resolution panorama image of Mont Mercou sent by the Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / Kevin M. Gill – CC BY 2.0

Mission Progress

Mont Mercou’s campaign began by digging the Nontron rock, which may contain the clay mineral nontronite. Whether this is the case will be confirmed by the SAM scientific instrument to which the collected material is being submitted.

This is the "Nontron" drill hole imaged by Curiosity on Sol 3056. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This is the “Nontron” drill hole imaged by Curiosity on Sol 3056. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

As of today, March 31, the mission team has completed the analysis of the collected material from inside the Nontrun rock in front of Mont Mercou. The MAHLI microscope and the APXS spectrometer continue to study the Bara Bachau rock massif. In the near future, the rover will be positioned to study in detail the rocks of Mont Mercou itself.

Meanwhile, the ChemCam continues to study Mercou’s mineral composition from a distance, while the MastCam panoramic camera is in the process of capturing detailed images of the surrounding area. We have selected the best recent images from the Curiosity mission for this article.

For example, enough high-resolution images have already arrived on Earth from the Curiosity rover’s MastCam camera, allowing us to see several full-scale panoramas of Mont Mercou. You can see them below.

This stereoscopic effect was created using a pair of panoramas from Curiosity's Mastcam. Both shots were taken from the same distance but at different positions, allowing us to see this 3D-ish view of Mont Mercou. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
This stereoscopic effect was created using a pair of panoramas from Curiosity’s Mastcam. Both shots were taken from the same distance but at different positions, allowing us to see this 3D-ish view of Mont Mercou. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What makes Mont Mercou such an important research location?

Curiosity began operating on Mars in 2012 as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Its main task is to study the geological history and atmosphere of Mars, for which it is equipped with many scientific instruments. From the moment it landed in Gale Crater, the rover moved towards the foot of the five-kilometer Mount Sharpe which it has been studying since.

In 2019, Curiosity found clay minerals in rock outcrops at the foot of Mount Sharpe, which are estimated to be the highest ever recorded by a rover. This supports the idea that Gale Crater once contained significant amounts of water and the rock in the area was formed from sedimentary layers of ancient lakes.

In another composition of images from the Mastcam, we see this 360-degree panorama of Mont Mercou and its surroundings. This image was composed of 126 individual shots on March 3, days before Curiosity reached the vicinity of the landmark. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
In another composition of images from the Mastcam, we see this 360-degree panorama of Mont Mercou and its surroundings. This image was composed of 126 individual shots on March 3, days before Curiosity reached the vicinity of the landmark. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This is why the new location of Mont Mercou is so important for the mission. Scientists found that the location is exactly at the transition point between a clay-rich area to a sulfate-rich area. The samples that Curiosity collected could be what scientists have always needed to understand what changed Mars from a world that could potentially be habitable to the desert we see today.

Curiosity sent back images of Martian clouds

Most of the images we see on Mars show the surface and geological features. We often get incredible panoramas like the one above but pictures of the Martial clouds are a rarity.

Here is a beautiful image of the twilight clouds over Mars's Mont Mercou captured by the Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Here is a beautiful image of the twilight clouds over Mars’s Mont Mercou captured by the Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to NASA scientists, the area where the rover operates is just entering the cloudy season on the Red Planet. This means that we will surely be getting more shots of the sky above Mars in the upcoming weeks or months.


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Sources:

Greicius, T. (2019, August 01). NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Takes Selfie With ‘Mont Mercou’.
Lewis, S. (2021, March 31). NASA’s Mars Curiosity ROVER beams Back Dramatic selfie and panoramas At MAJESTIC rock formation.
Strickland, A. (2021, March 30). Mars curiosity rover Takes selfie with ‘MONT MERCOU’.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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