Where the Mars Curiosity Rover Is Headed Next

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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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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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