Since humans caught their first glimpse of the Red Planet years ago, scientists have found a way to see more of Mars than we ever thought possible—all thanks to rovers. These impressive machines have advanced to such an extent that they’re no longer just tools. What they show us has the potential to change not just one world, but two. And now, groundbreaking new photos are suggesting that what’s out there might be even stranger than we ever thought possible.
Curiosity is what landed humans on the moon, and it’s what humans launched into the sky on November 26, 2011. NASA’s Curiosity rover was en route to Mars, and it was unlike any of the other rovers sent in previous years.
Since 1996, NASA has sent four rovers to Mars in hopes of learning more about the Red Planet: Sojourner was the first, and compared to Curiosity, it seems about as effective as a camcorder.
Despite its meek size, Sojourner was essential to us learning more about our neighboring planet. As part of the Mars Pathfinder mission, Sojourner roved the Ares Vallis region for three months, and it took some history-making photos.
he next rover to land on Mars was Spirit. It landed in the Gusev region and successfully collected data from 2004 to 2010. For many, Spirit was more than just a tool. Its very composition was made of something special.
Spirit’s abrasion tool was made up of aluminum that was recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers. In this way, Spirit represented something other than scientific exploration: It was a symbol of hope.
Though Spirit met its “demise” in a sandy trap-like dune, hope wasn’t lost for those down on Earth. As anyone familiar with NASA’s various Mars missions knows, Spirit wasn’t alone on the Red Planet.
Three weeks after Spirit landed on Mars, its twin Opportunity followed suit. Though Opportunity couldn’t save its twin from the sand trap, it was able to further the research done by Spirit, and to an astounding degree.
In fact, Opportunity roamed Mars for over a decade, collecting soil samples, rocks, and taking endless pictures of the surrounding Martian expanse. It took the world’s first photo of a meteorite discovered on Mars, and drove the longest distance around the Red Planet.
“Oppy” couldn’t roam Mars forever, though, and in February 2019, NASA concluded the rover’s 14-year mission. A journalist tweeted an English translation of Opportunity’s final transmission, and what he conveyed spread like fire across internet on fire.
Journalist Jacob Margolis wrote that Oppy’s last transmission roughly said “My battery is low and it’s getting dark,” a message that struck an emotional chord with everyone who read the misleading tweet.
Margolis later apologized for the misleading message — obviously, Opportunity didn’t write in English — but the world was moved nonetheless. Since the emotional farewell to Opportunity, everyone’s sights have been set on the rover’s nearby comrade…
Curiosity joined Opportunity in 2012, and it’s now the sole rover on Mars. It landed in Mars’ Gale crater on what was later known as the Bradbury Landing Site. Curiosity landed on Mars with the most ambitious mission yet.
Like its predecessors, Curiosity’s goals include investigating the planet’s climate and geology and assessing whether Gale has ever offered conditions favorable to life. But what makes its mission different from the others is its central purpose on Mars.
Scientists hope that Curiosity will surpass even Opportunity’s lifespan, and in that time determine whether or not Mars can support human life…and if it will ever be able to at all. In order to accomplish this, there’s one thing Curiosity needs to do.
Take photos! Since landing on Mars in 2012, the rover has taken some of the most spectacular photos to date of the Red Planet. What they reveal is truly breathtaking; the images are continuously giving scientists new information about the possibility of life.
Curiosity has taken the most high-definition photos of Mars on record, like this one of a wind-swept expanse of dunes. Previous rovers have picked up footage of dust storms and dust devils on the surface of Mars, and photos like this only exemplify their data.
The surface of Mars is mainly dry, cracked, and crumbling, which means Curiosity has picked up some incredible rock formations. The coolest part? Since there’s no known life on Mars, these grooves and slats are a natural phenomenon.
Some of these rock formations are strangely — or fittingly? — otherworldly, such as this rock that has since been named the Jake Matijevic Rock. This pyramidal formation was named after a NASA engineer who died shortly after Curiosity landed on Mars.
Just like its predecessor Opportunity, Curiosity snapped a meteorite photo. Folks at home examining the image were quick to point out the subject looked more like a statue head than space material.
Of the research Curiosity has conducted, some of the most impressive is the work done at Mount Sharp. Mount Sharp forms the peak of the Gale crater and is the site of many sampling holes like this one completed by Curiosity.
Mount Sharp is truly something to behold, and thankfully, Curiosity’s high-definition photos give us a stunning look at the ancient mountain. It looks like a stretch of desert the likes of which you’d find in the Midwest, not on an entirely different planet.
One of the most exciting and important discoveries picked up by Curiosity and other rovers is the phenomenon captured by this photo. It may not look like much, but what it tells scientists is huge: It shows remnants of a stream, proof that water once existed on Mars.
Many people — mainly sentimental internet users — have compared Curiosity to the fictional robot Wall-E because of its status as the only creature on Mars. It sounds lonely, but Curiosity isn’t really alone.
Following the rover on its daring expedition are the scientists and engineers at NASA. For now, the most they can see of the fascinating planet is what is transmitted through Curiosity. But the hope that the very first rover launched with remains intact…
As NASA prepares to send its next rover in the summer of 2020, it does so with the hope that what the ‘bot captures — and what Curiosity continues to discover — will lead astronauts closer to seeing the mysterious Red Planet in person.
In the meantime, engineers and scientists continue to scour the moon’s surface for clues about the universe. In 2019, China made space history as the first nation to land a probe on the far side of the moon. It turned out the Chinese had another space bombshell to drop, too.
Wu Yanhua, the deputy director of the China National Space Administration, opened up about their big plan. Detailing the purpose of the Chang’e 4 Mission, he explained that his government was particularly interested about life on the moon.
There weren’t any humans aboard the spacecraft, but the “scientific exploration phase” did concern every man, woman, and child on Earth. They sent several types of organisms up there — not just to survive, but to thrive.