NASA’s Curiosity has been exploring Mars for over 2,550 days, deepening our knowledge of the Red Planet. Now it's about to begin some exciting new science as it has reached a new location, an area called Glen Etive (pronounced Eh-tiv), named after the Scottish location some people may recognize from the Bond movie Skyfall.
Curiosity also took another one of its now notorious selfies and it is an excellent one. The industrious rover is climbing Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), located at the center of the Gale Crater, moderately close to the Martian Equator. Since its arrival on Mars, the rover has driven 21 kilometers (13 miles) and this splendid new selfie gives hints of how far it has come, showing the crater floor in the distance as well as the Vera Rubin Ridge, an area studied in detailed by Curiosity.
The selfie was captured by the rover's robotic arm and the image was stitched together from 57 individual photos, which is why you can't see the arm in the final image. It also marks the second wet chemistry experiment conducted by the rover since landing on Mars in August 2012. It was important to do it here as it's an area dubbed a clay-bearing unit, where a lot of intriguing compounds are believed to be present in the Glen Etive soil.
Curiosity drilled two sample holes with the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit. SAM is a fantastic portable lab made of 74 cups that the rover can analyze. Nine of these cups are filled with solvent, to allow the rover to more easily identify organics. The limited amount of these cups is the reason why NASA has been being very parsimonious with the wet chemistry kit.
"We've been eager to find an area that would be compelling enough to do wet chemistry," SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "Now that we're in the clay-bearing unit, we've finally got it."
The team is optimistic about the samples. Glen Etive might bring some information about how this clay-rich location formed once the data is analyzed. The researchers hope to have something to share next year.
"SAM's data is extremely complex and takes time to interpret," Mahaffy said. "But we're all eager to see what we can learn from this new location, Glen Etive."
The first time the wet kit was used was after Curiosity's drill malfunctioned in 2016. As the team was unsure if the drill would work again, they scooped up some sand and deliver it to the SAM’s wet cups. The experiment, although unplanned, brought some interesting insights and actually fine-tuned the set up for the latest one.