Over the past few days, NASA’s Curiosity rover has been making a steady climb towards a strange Martian ridge that’s captivated scientists since before the mission even started. Known as Vera Ridge after the pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin, the durable outcrop could shed new light on the environment and potential habitability of ancient Mars. Although the climb has proven a challenging one, Curiosity has managed to capture some spectacular photos along the way.
The Curiosity rover’s explorations have already shown that this region of Mars once hosted an ancient lake, which is seen as a potential sign of habitability, and a possible example of what Earth looked like in its primordial days. The iron-oxide-bearing Vera Ridge, which also contains clay and sulfate minerals, was named a “go-to target” by NASA before Curiosity made its landing on the Red Planet back in 2012.
The ridge is located on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp, in a region that’s better at resisting erosion than the shallower areas below Curiosity’s current position. NASA is hoping to gain a better understanding of why this is the case, why it’s rich in the iron-oxide mineral hematite (which may be related to the lack of observed erosion), and what the rocks of Vera Ridge can reveal about the environmental conditions of ancient Mars.
But to observe these tantalizing features, Curiosity has some climbing to do. Mission planners are carefully selecting a route that, in addition to ensuring a safe ascent, will lead to the ridge layers that were previously studied from a lower vantage point.