Just like you, the Curiosity Rover had a nice, long holiday break on Mars, but now it’s time to get back to work.
After doing some imaging work over the Christmas season, the rover started to rove again last Thursday, Jan. 3. It is now closing in on a rock feature known to researchers as “Snake River.”
"We had no surprises over the holidays," according to the mission's project manager, Richard Cook, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "Now, Curiosity is back on the move. The area the rover is in looks good for our first drilling target."
Curiosity, which has already added volumes to astronomers’ understanding of Mars, will explore even more of the Red Planet through its mission in 2013.
"We are firing on all cylinders now and our last thing to do is drilling, and we really hope to start on that process beginning next week," lead scientist John Grotzinger told the BBC.
Scientists want to get a closer look at the rock patterns in Snake River.
"It's one piece of the puzzle," Gotzinger continued. "It has a crosscutting relationship to the surrounding rock and appears to have formed after the deposition of the layer that it transects."
Curiosity is also exploring portions of an area scientists call Yellowknife Bay.
"We're down at the very lowest layer - what would be the oldest layer that we would see in this succession that might be five to eight meters thick, and that is very likely where we are going to choose our first drilling target, because suddenly we've come into an area that represents a very high diversity of things we haven't seen before," claimed Grotzinger.
These locales could hold important clues to Mars’ ancient past.
"The place where Curiosity is right now is a small stack of layers - very impressive - and they could be 3-3.5 billion years old,” Grotzinger said in the interview, “and so we're very excited about this because unlike the soil which we were analyzing before the holiday season - a loose, windswept patch of dirt on the surface of Mars - we're now going to start digging down into the very ancient bedrock which we really built the rover to look at.”
This research helps scientists understand if Mars ever supported life.
"We use these layers as a sort of recording device of past events and conditions, and the rover has the same kind of analytical capability that we would use here on Earth to tell us about the early environmental conditions,” said Grotzinger, “and, if life had ever evolved, [if it would] be the kind of environment that would have been conducive toward sustaining that life."