Mars Curiosity Rover explores Yellowknife Bay

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is looking for new rocks to drill in area known as Yellowknife Bay on the Red Planet.

Yellowknife Bay is a shallow basin just over 1300 feet or 400m from where Curiosity touched down at Bradbury Landing. The location is made up of a new type of terrain for Curiosity. Scientists at NASA are hoping to use Curiosity’s percussive drill here for the first time in the mission, to collect a sample from within a rock early in the new year.

Curiosity arrived at the shallow basin on December 11 and has been using its Mast Camera (Mastcam) and its laser-wielding Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to study rocks as it travels by.  While Curiosity has travelled an average of 0.42 miles (677 meters) since it first touched down on Mars, the extra-terrestrial explorer has to complete one additional drive before being given a break for the holidays.  

So far, Curiosity has visited two different rock targets in the bay called ‘Costello’ and ‘Flaherty’.  Researchers back on Earth used Curiosity’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover’s arm to examine the rock targets.

Curiosity is exploring an area of Mars known as Gale Crater, named after the amateur Australian astronomer who observed Mars in the late nineteenth century. After its first use of the drill, Curiosity’s next destination is Mount Sharp, an unusual mound of debris, 3 miles high at the centre of the crater. 

Debate still surrounds what Mount Sharp is made of and how it was formed but many scientists believe that is a remnant of the layers of sediment that would have at one point filled the basin. Most of Curiosity’s work in 2013 will involve travelling towards this mysterious outcrop.