On its first anniversary on Mars, the Curiosity rover celebrated with a selfie.
NASA's Curiosity rover is celebrating its first Martian anniversary this week – nearly two full Earth years of exploring the red planet.
Spending 687 days driving around our dusty neighbouring world's surface, the robotic geochemist is helping to not only guide future robotic and human missions, but also raise the prospects of finding evidence of life on Mars.
Since its hair-raising touchdown within the bowels of Gale crater on Aug. 5, 2012, Curiosity has been one busy explorer, beaming back hundreds of gigabits of picture postcards and scientific data, while prospecting for rock samples and driving a full 7.9 kilometres.
The 154 km-wide impact basin near the planet's equatorial region was chosen as the rover’s landing site because satellite images showed hints of fast-flowing water flooding the area.
Curiosity spent a better part of its first year at a region known as Yellowknife Bay, where rock outcrops were drilled, sampled and analyzed for their chemistry. While the rover itself was never designed to directly sniff out signs of life, it has hit the jackpot with clear evidence of a past environment suitable to support microbial life.
And now the rover, sporting a damaged wheel, is in the middle of a slower-than-expected cosmic road trip towards the mission's primary target – the base of Mount Sharp – a stunning, 5-kilometre high mountain 8 kilometers from the landing site.
Taking a path filled with both sandy and rocky patches, the mega-rover's journey will take many more months before it arrives at the base of Mt. Sharp. Once there, it will get to work using its microscope cameras to get detailed views of exposed lower layers of the mountain that appears to be made up of layered rock – the same formations seen here on Earth associated with exposure to water.
Here now is a rundown of the Top 5 discoveries in the Curiosity's first year on Mars.
NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence for an ancient, flowing stream on Mars.
Near its landing site, the rover found minerals and clay that point to neutral water having once covered the bottom of the giant crater in the distant past – anywhere from a few million to 3 billion years ago.
Mars researchers believe this lake was mostly likely awash with the basic chemical ingredients needed to create a veritable utopia for simple life forms.
2. A river ran through it
Conglomerate rocks made of many small, rounded pebbles cemented together were singled out by Curiosity's cameras.
This discovery excites scientists because the very same type of rock forms on Earth wherever knee-deep water flows over extended periods of time.
3. Missing methane
A great mystery had been brewing the past decade about claims that Mars had local methane hot spots. The same gas in Earth's atmosphere is mostly the result of daily biological activity. So not surprisingly, when Earth-based telescopes and Mars orbiters showed tentative hints of this trace gas on Mars, NASA had Curiosity sniff the Martian air.
Interestingly, the rover has found negligible amounts – about 600 times less than what is seen in Earth's atmosphere. Researchers interpret this as meaning the local environment may be too harsh for present-day life on Mars.
The infamous blueberry pebbles found on the surface of Mars.
4. A smorgasbord of rocks
Before even getting to the ultimate destination of Mount Sharp, scientists were surprised by the amazing variety of rocks Curiosity came across in its travels. Everything from mudstones to rocks with cracks filled with mineral veins, each one painting a picture of a variety of environmental conditions that existed over billions of years in Mars' past.
5. Radiation level baselines
While Curiosity was sailing through space on its long journey to Mars back in 2012, onboard instruments were measuring the incoming natural cosmic and solar radiation. These instruments were tucked away neatly inside the spacecraft capsule – in a similar environment humans will one day experience on a mission to the red planet.
It turns out that the amount of radiation bombarding the bodies of any future Mars astronaut will be a major health concern.
In its nine-month long voyage from Earth to Mars, Curiosity absorbed more radiation than what NASA astronauts are allowed to be exposed to over their entire career.
So there is no doubt that space engineers will have to factor in the dangers of space radiation when designing long-term, human-led missions to Mars and beyond.
Thanx very much Yahoo