The analyses of the Big Sky rock-powder samples by CheMin and SAM will occur over the next week. Meanwhile, the team will be turning the rover's attention and its wheels towards the second rock, where the sample analysis process will begin anew.
Curiosity is currently on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp in a region covered in sandstone called the Stimson Unit. Two weeks ago, still in the same general vicinity, Curiosity took a pair of long-range images toward higher regions of the mountain. In the foreground -- about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the rover -- is a long ridge teeming with hematite, an iron oxide. Just beyond is an undulating plain rich in clay minerals. And just beyond that are a multitude of rounded buttes, all high in sulfate minerals. The changing mineralogy in these layers of Mount Sharp suggests a changing environment in early Mars, though all involve exposure to water billions of years ago. The Curiosity team hopes to be able to explore these diverse areas in the months and years ahead. Farther back in the image are striking, light-toned cliffs in rock that may have formed in drier times and now are heavily eroded by winds.
"The only thing more stunning than these images is the thought that Curiosity will be driving through those lower hills one day," Vasavada said. "We couldn't help but send a postcard back to all those following her journey."
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl, and http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/. You can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.
DC Agle / Guy Webster
818-393-9011 / 4-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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