NASA’s Curiosity rover has successfully reached the Gediz Vallis Ridge on Mars, a significant geological formation that provides insight into the planet’s watery past. The ridge is believed to be remnants of ancient debris flows that occurred three billion years ago during one of Mars’ last wet periods.
The rover faced challenges during its journey, having to navigate through knife-edged “gator-back” rocks and steep slopes. After three attempts, Curiosity finally arrived at the ridge on August 14, capturing a 360-degree panoramic mosaic of the formation with its robotic arm.
Curiosity’s project scientist, Ashwin Vasavada, expressed excitement about the achievement, stating that it is thrilling to be able to touch rocks that were transported from high up on Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall mountain that the rover has been ascending since 2014. Different layers of the mountain represent different eras of Martian history, and as Curiosity ascends, scientists gain more knowledge about the changing landscape over time.
Gediz Vallis Ridge is among the last features on Mount Sharp to form, making it one of the youngest geological time capsules for Curiosity to study. During its 11-day stay at the ridge, Curiosity took photos and studied the composition of dark rocks that originated elsewhere on the mountain, providing valuable insights into material from the upper mountain.
The rover’s arrival at the ridge also provided scientists with the first up-close views of the eroded remnants of a debris flow fan. These fans are common on both Mars and Earth, and studying them helps scientists understand how they form and the natural hazards they present.
While scientists continue to analyze the data from Gediz Vallis Ridge, Curiosity is already preparing for its next challenge: finding a path to the channel above the ridge to learn more about the flow of water on Mount Sharp.
– NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
– University of California, Berkeley