It took 8 years and 34 kilometres of driving for the Opportunity rover to discover a vein of gypsum, deposited when hot, mineral-rich water coursed through rock fractures. Might the Curiosity rover have discovered something similar in the very act of landing?
A panorama of navigation camera images, retrieved on the rover’s third day on the surface, reveal that the retrorockets on the descent stage scoured out a shallow trench just a few metres from the rover. Clearly visible are two parallel, light-coloured, linear features. Could these be something like Opportunity’s veins? Project scientist John Grotzinger says that they could be fractures filled with some cementing material. “Sure, why not?” he said on Wednesday in a press briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The team will get a closer look as the main mast cameras are turned on and calibrated. The feature might even be close enough for the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to zap. And it is also a contender for a first short drive that is expected around the thirteenth Martian day — although some might want to avoid an area that was blasted with oxidized hydrazine propellant.
A few hundred metres further away lies a target that seems to be most exciting to the Mars scientists — a triple point between three different-looking deposits with scarps, or cuts, separating the units. The outcrops there might explain intriguing light-coloured deposits with high thermal inertia, which might be a clue that these deposits, too, have been cemented together in some way. Matt Golombek, project scientist for the Mars Pathfinder mission, says it’s a no-brainer: he would head to the triple point. “Why wouldn’t you go there? Those are outcrops. Why dink around with a little trench?”