NASA’s shiny new Perseverance rover has been stealing the spotlight lately, but Curiosity is still on Mars, too. This aging robot is still young and hip enough to take a selfie — hell, Curiosity pioneered the rover selfie. The latest snapshot features the rover posing in front of a large rock outcrop the team has dubbed “Mont Mercou,” after a French mountain.
Mont Mercou is far from a mountain, but the Curiosity team felt it was geologically interesting enough to get a name. It’s about 20 feet (six meters) tall and fully visible behind the rover. That’s not all you can see in this photo — there’s a tiny drill hole just in front of Curiosity. NASA has dubbed this site “Nontron” after a village located near the real Mont Mercou in France. The team decided on the French nicknames for this region because Mars orbiters previously detected a clay mineral called nontronite, which is found in large quantities in the Nontron region.
The Nontron sample has been loaded into the rover’s science instruments, making it the 30th sample analyzed by the rover during its more than 3,000 sols (over eight Earth years) on the red planet. That’s something Perseverance will be doing a lot of as it roams the red planet and stores samples for a later mission to return to Earth.
Curiosity produced this selfie with a surprisingly large number of images taken on two different days. The background consists of 11 images taken with the Mastcam on sol 3,060, which you probably know as the rover’s “head.” The selfie portion of the image comes from 60 individual frames captured with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on sol 3,070. This camera is on the robotic arm, allowing it to move and capture images from different angles. When processing the frames into a single enormous photo, NASA can clip out the arm to make the image look like it was taken by someone standing next to the robot. There’s no one on Mars to take such photos, as far as we know.
NASA also used the Mastcam to capture 32 images of Mont Mercou. The team processed that into a stereoscopic view — you can use the above anaglyph to see the outcropping in 3D, with appropriate eyewear.
Curiosity is still setting records on Mars, and it shows no signs of stopping. The rover has been climbing Mount Sharp since 2014, examining the planet’s stratification as it goes. Currently, Curiosity is in a region that transitions from clay-bearing geology to the sulfate-bearing unit. The mission has been extended indefinitely, so Curiosity will keep climbing as long as it’s able.
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