NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, which is the only mobile robot exploring the Martian surface right now after its precursor Opportunity died this year, has been taking some spectacular snapshots recently.
On November 3, for instance, the rover captured the incredible view of Gale Crater pictured above, with the formation’s sloped rim visible in the distance. The black-and-white vista was published on NASA’s public feed of raw images from the Curiosity rover, which carries a suite of instruments called the Mars Science Laboratory. Curiosity has been snapping a lot of pictures over the past few days, including a very similar image from November 1.
Curiosity has traveled miles more than 13 miles since it landed on Mars in August 2012, and is now located near a steep rocky outcrop called Central Butte. In addition to taking plenty of close-up photos of interesting rocks on the ground and moody shots of its own shadow, Curiosity has captured several images of Gale Crater, which measures about 100 miles wide, from the vantagepoint of the butte.
The rover has been exploring the butte to study its sedimentary rock layers, which contain clues about the planet’s past. Scientists think Gale Crater once was awash in lakes and rivers of liquid water more than three billion years ago, which makes it a prime location to search for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars.
Curiosity is scheduled to drive down the other side of Central Butte soon, according to a Friday blog post by Kristen Bennett, a planetary geologist at USGS Astrogeology Science Center.
“We expect to continue having amazing views of Central Butte at our next stop!” Bennett said.
Curiosity is now the sole rover operating on Mars, after NASA’s Opportunity rover was officially declared dead in February. Opportunity landed on Mars with its twin, Spirit, all the way back in 2004, and traveled 28 miles—farther than any other interplanetary rover in history. Curiosity now shares the Martian surface with NASA’s InSight lander, which is a stationary probe located nearly 400 miles from Gale Crater.
Curiosity may not have any fellow rovers at the moment, but if all goes to plan, it will be joined by a few new vehicles within the next few years. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which is based on Curiosity’s design, is scheduled to land on the red planet in 2021. That same year, rovers from both China’s space program and the Russian/European ExoMars mission are also expected to touch down on Mars.