On a recent trip to Mount Sharp, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity found a new challenge. The rover had to turn back after it entered the ‘Hidden Valley’ on its way to the mountain. Sand in the area was a bit more slippery than expected according to NASA officials.

So, Curiosity has to find a new route.

Curiosity project manager Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) touched on the sand located in the Hidden Valley. “We need to gain a better understanding of the interaction between the wheels and Martian sand ripples, and Hidden Valley is not a good location for experimenting.”

What’s next? There’s only two exits out of the Hidden Valley, which is the about length of a football field. On the northeastern and southwestern ends. NASA officials are looking at potential new routes that would take Curiosity to the north of the valley.

Sand may still be in Curiosity’s future, but officials want to find some that isn’t so slippery. Ripples in the Hidden Valley are believed to have been the cause for the looser than expected traction.

The discoveries never stop for Curiosity even when something goes wrong. As it reversed course away from Hidden Valley one of its rover wheels cracked a pale paving stone. A bright interior material was exposed, leading scientists to believe it could possibly be mineral veins.

Curiosity’s primary goal remains Mount Sharp. The mountain could help the Curiosity team paint the history of Mars’ transition from a warm, wet planet to the dusty one we see today through its rocks.

Scientists checked off the wet planet box last year after analyzing samples drilled from rocks in Yellowknife bay. Analysis showed the area was a habitable lake and stream system billions of years ago.

Despite the recent hiccup, Curiosity’s slow trek towards Mount Sharp will continue. The rover is about 2 miles away from the mountain and scientists hope to get it the base by year’s end.

Image above: Rover wheel marks as it attempted to enter Hidden Valley. Credit: JPL


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