NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun the steep ascent of an iron-oxide-bearing ridge that’s grabbed scientists’ attention since before the car-sized rover’s 2012 landing.
“We’re on the climb now, driving up a route where we can access the layers we’ve studied from below,” said Abigail Fraeman, a Curiosity science-team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“Vera Rubin Ridge” stands prominently on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp, resisting erosion better than the less-steep portions of the mountain below and above it. The ridge, also called “Hematite Ridge,” was informally named earlier this year in honor of pioneering astrophysicist Vera Rubin.
“As we skirted around the base of the ridge this summer, we had the opportunity to observe the large vertical exposure of rock layers that make up the bottom part of the ridge,” said Fraeman, who organized the rover’s ridge campaign. “But even though steep cliffs are great for exposing the stratifications, they’re not so good for driving up.”
The ascent to the top of the ridge from a transition in rock-layer appearance at the bottom of it will gain about 213 feet (65 meters) of elevation—about 20 stories. The climb requires a series of drives totaling a little more than a third of a mile (570 meters). Before starting this ascent in early September, Curiosity had gained a total of about 980 feet (about 300 meters) in elevation in drives totaling 10.76 miles (17.32 kilometers) from its landing site to the base of the ridge.