Where the Mars Curiosity Rover Is Headed Next

So far, most of the excitement about the Curiosity rover has sprung from its precise landing and its first surroundings, the floor of the Gale Crater. But the rover is meant to rove, and rove it will. 

Featuring "Ugly Bastard Theme #3" by Lost Autobody Treasures / CC BY 3.0

Today, in a press briefing, Dawn Sumner, a UC Davis geologist on the Curiosity science team, gave the first firm indication of where they might be driving next. They're headed to the base of Mt. Sharp, the large geological feature rising in the middle of Gale Crater. The video above zooms in on the spot in the most recent Panorama that Curiosity has phoned home. 

(Imagine standing there with Curiosity looking out over that plain towards Mt. Sharp and thinking, "Man, here we go," as you start walking. This is why westerns always remind me of space.)

Below, the target region is outlined in red on a map. The pink X marks the Rover's current location. Each square in the map is roughly 0.9 miles on a side, so the rover has at least four miles to go. 

wherecuriosityisgoing.jpg

They're headed to this specific location because, as Sumner put it, "These beautiful knolls of layered rocks and those layers are what's recording the history of Gale Crater." 

Right now, the team is assessing the precise path that they want to take. It's going to be quite a climb. Let's zoom out a little and recall that the rover is positioned here within the depression but facing up the mountain:

I've marked the direction in which the science team wants to go in the elevation map below. This is roughly the direction that we zoomed in on in the panorama video.

topomapdirection.jpg

Now that you know where we're looking, here's that panorama again -- this time as a still -- with a red box where we're headed. Make sure to click the photograph, it's way better to explore this thing big.

panosmall.jpg

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