Video: Curiosity rover captures 360-degree panorama of Mount Sharp on Mars, showing changing landscape

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recently explored Mount Sharp. The mountain is 8km (5 mi) tall and is within the 154km-wide (96 mi) basin of Mars’s Gale Crater. Curiosity captured a new 360-degree panorama at Mount Sharp, revealing its diverse terrain and shedding light on the area’s ancient environment.

NASA writes, ‘Images of knobbly rocks and rounded hills are delighting scientists as NASA’s Curiosity rover climbs Mount Sharp, a 5-mile-tall (8-kilometer-tall) mountain within the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) basin of Mars’ Gale Crater. The rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, highlights those features in a panorama captured on July 3, 2021 (the 3,167th Martian day, or sol, of the mission).’

Studying the region has been a long-term goal for the Curiosity mission, which is now in its ninth year on Mars. By studying the layers of Mount Sharp, scientists hope to understand how the environment of Gale Crater dried over time. Similar changes in mineral composition are seen across the planet, so understanding Gale Crater should pay dividends in understanding other parts of Mars.

‘The rocks here will begin to tell us how this once-wet planet changed into the dry Mars of today, and how long habitable environments persisted even after that happened,’ said Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

‘NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to capture this 360-degree view near “Rafael Navarro Mountain” on July 3, 2021, the 3,167th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Stitched together from 129 individual images, the panorama has been white-balanced so that the colors of the rock materials resemble how they would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. A craggy hump that stretches 450 feet (137 meters) tall, the geologic feature is located on Mount Sharp in northwest Gale Crater.’ Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Click to enlarge.

When Curiosity landed on Mars on August 5, 2012, its primary mission was to study whether different Martian environments could have supported microbial life in Mars’s ancient past. Lakes and groundwater once existed within Gale Crater, and scientists want to use Curiosity to understand better what happened and how Mars changed over time.

Looking forward, Curiosity is currently working its way up a path between Rafael Navarro Mountain and a towering butte. In the coming year, Curiosity will drive past these features and enter a canyon. It will then revisit Greenheugh Pediment.

You can learn more about the Curiosity mission by visiting NASA’s dedicated Mars website. You can also check out some of our prior coverage, including Curiosity photographing rare shimmering clouds in June and a neat selfie Curiosity sent to Earth in March.