To mark its 10 years on Mars, Curiosity offers itself a new exploration zone

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To mark its 10 years on Mars, Curiosity is offering a new area of ​​exploration

The Curiosity rover arrived on Mars in August 2012.

Arriving on Mars 10 years ago, NASA's Curiosity explorer rover will head to a new area of ​​the Red Planet to continue its explorations.

The rover, which had a its scheduled two-year lifespan when it arrived on Mars on August 6, 2012, is extending its life: in April, its activity was once again extended by NASA until September 2025.

For this new period of its Martian life, the robot is about to discover a region whose soil is essentially composed of sulphates, which it has not yet studied.

This zone, which we see a lot on Mars, marks a climatic transition towards the aridity and drying out that we now know, explains Olivier Gasnault, scientist manager, France, of ChemCam, a Franco-American instrument on board Curiosity.

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the studies carried out by Curiosity, and this was one of the objectives of the mission, is that Mars was habitable for a simple form of life, rejoices Valérie Mousset, project manager of the Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity at the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), Toulouse.

There was water liquid and stable, and the presence of the molecules necessary for microbiological life, she adds.

At a slower pace in order to spare its capacities, the rover advances towards an 800 m wide valley at the bottom of which the scientists believe they can glimpse the remains of a canal. We wonder if this is not one of the last flows on Mars, says Mr. Gasnault, who hopes to verify this hypothesis.

Three hundred people in France have been involved from the beginning in the project of this rover which has traveled 28 km and climbed 600 meters of altitude difference since its arrival on Martian soil.

Curiosity allowed a change of scale in planetary exploration, by bringing a small laboratory on site, but also to establish strategies and ask the right questions for the next missions, explained Mr. Gasnault at the CNES premises, a few days before the 10th anniversary of the robot's landing.

The scientist cites the example of SuperCam, another tool built with the participation of CNESthanks to everything we learned to make it a better instrument.

Illustration of Perseverance's SuperCam in action.

This device on board Perseverance, the last robot to arrive on Mars in 2021, is capable of analyzing the chemical elements likely to form min erals, but it was also able to record the first Martian sounds in May 2021, while maintaining strong maneuverability.

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