NASA’s Curiosity rover, chugging along the rocky surface of Mars since 2012, has captured a panorama image of the planet’s surface, providing a mesmerizing look into the rover’s environment. A NASA blog post describes the image as including “umber skies, darkened by a fading global dust storm.”
The rover itself is visible at the bottom of the image, showing a layer of dust on its surface. Curiosity’s complement, Opportunity, got caught in the same dust storm on the other side of the planet, where conditions were much worse, Gizmodo reports.
NASA operatives put Opportunity into hibernation mode to conserve energy, since the dusty skies prevented its solar panels from being able to charge. It’s uncertain when, or if, Opportunity will become active again, but Curiosity is doing some good work in the meantime.
The panorama image of Mars, captured on August 9, shows Curiosity’s location at Vera Rubin Ridge. According to Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the ridge’s rock composition is uniquely diverse.
“The ridge isn’t this monolithic thing—it has two distinct sections, each of which has a variety of colors,” Vasavada said in a NASA blog post. “Some are visible to the eye and even more show up when we look in near-infrared, just beyond what our eyes can see. Some seem related to how hard the rocks are.”
Curiosity grabbed a rock sample just before taking the panorama image, a small victory considering its past two drill attempts were not successful. “Unexpectedly hard rocks” thwarted the previous attempts, NASA reports, but an analysis of this rock sample can help them determine “what’s acting as ‘cement’ in the ridge, enabling it to stand despite wind erosion.”
According to Vasavada, groundwater flowing in a far-away past could have helped strengthen the rock. The ridge contains a lot of hematite, a mineral found in water, so much so that “it drew the attention of NASA orbiters like a beacon,” says NASA. More studies are required to determine the cause of the rocks’ strength with certainty.
You can take a closer look at Curiosity’s panorama using a 360-degree imaging experience provided by YouTube.