Curiosity marks 3rd anniversary on Mars with amazing science discoveries

Self-portrait of the Curiosity over in Gale crater on Mars. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Self-portrait of the Curiosity over in Gale crater on Mars. Part of Mount Sharp is in the background. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover has just reached its third anniversary milestone on Mars, after landing in Gale crater on Aug. 5, 2012, and since then has made some incredible science discoveries, with more to come in the months and years ahead. NASA is celebrating this achievement and you can take part, too!

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Curiosity finds first evidence for possible ‘continental crust’ on Mars

View of an igneous clast named Harrison which is embedded in a conglomerate rock in Gale crater, and features elongated light-toned feldspar crystals. This mosaic is a combination of an image from Mastcam with higher-resolution images from ChemCam’s Remote Micro-Imager. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/U. Nantes/IAS/MSSS
View of an igneous clast named Harrison which is embedded in a conglomerate rock in Gale crater, and features elongated light-toned feldspar crystals. This mosaic is a combination of an image from Mastcam with higher-resolution images from ChemCam’s Remote Micro-Imager. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/IRAP/U. Nantes/IAS/MSSS

The Curiosity rover, still roaming in Gale crater, has discovered the first evidence for a potential ancient “continental crust” on Mars, which would be a very significant finding regarding Mars’ early history and to what degree it may have paralleled Earth’s.

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Flying the friendly Martian skies: NASA to test Mars airplane prototype

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba
Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

For several decades, Mars has been a busy place, with orbiters, landers, and rovers providing unprecedented views of the Red Planet. Another exciting possibility which has yet to be realized is an airplane, which could soar through the atmosphere, showing Mars in a way not possible before – closer than an orbiter, but unique from a lander or rover stuck on the surface. NASA is now testing just such a concept, the first Mars airplane which could fly in the Martian skies in the 2020s.

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Muddy Mars: new evidence for liquid water flows within past million years

Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications
Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications

The fact that Mars used to have large amounts of liquid water on its surface is pretty much accepted among scientists, but there is still the question of how long that water lasted. How long ago was it still present? A billion years? A few million? New evidence based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that water was still on the surface within the past million years, perhaps even as recently as 500,000 years ago, which is indeed recent, geologically speaking.

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Methane discovered in Martian meteorites: a clue to possible life?

Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein
Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein

The puzzle of methane on Mars has taken an interesting new twist: for the first time, the gas has been detected within Martian meteorites. The finding adds another layer to the ongoing controversy over the origin of the methane, whether it is abiotic and geological or a potential biosignature of life, either past or present.

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