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This Mountain Is What Curiosity’s Whole Mission Is About

Since August, Curiosity has been inching toward Mars' Mount Sharp

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It may look little, but this beautiful panorama of Mars’ Mount Sharp, at 15,000 pixels across, is huge. Click for maximum Mars beauty. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This is it, folks. This is what it’s all about. Since the Curiosity rover first set down on Mars in August, the one-ton mobile laboratory has been slowly inching its way towards Mount Sharp, a 3.4 mile high mountain nestled within a crater on the face of the red planet.

In this gorgeous mosaic NASA shows how the surface of Mount Sharp would look if the light on the dusty planet were the same as on Earth. In reality the Martian atmosphere makes the vistas appear a bit more drab, but editing the photo to look more Earthlike “helps scientists recognize rock materials based on their experience looking at rocks on Earth.”

The slow crawl toward Mount Sharp began months ago, and photos taken over time show the feature slowly inching into view.

One of Curiosity’s first photos shows Mount Sharp in the distance. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA:

Mount Sharp, also called Aeolis Mons, is a layered mound in the center of Mars’ Gale Crater, rising more than 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor, where Curiosity has been working since the rover’s landing in August 2012. Lower slopes of Mount Sharp are the major destination for the mission, though the rover will first spend many more weeks around a location called “Yellowknife Bay,” where it has found evidence of a past environment favorable for microbial life.

Another huge photo of Mars’ surface. Captured in August, this black and right panorama shows the crest of Mount Sharp off in the distance. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mount Sharp, a peak rising in the midst of Gale Crater, was selected for the rover’s research because scientists thought they could find water and other signs that the region was once hospitable for life—dreams that have so far come true.

A computer image of Mount Sharp, resting in Gale Crater. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

More from Smithsonian.com:

Click Around This High Definition 360° Panorama of Mars

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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