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Curiosity's New Selfie Awash With Epic Mars Science

In a spectacular new Mars selfie, rover Curiosity stands proud on the bedrock at the base of Mount Sharp at it's Mojave work site in an area nicknamed Pahrump Hills.

In a spectacular new Mars "selfie," rover Curiosity stands proud on the bedrock at the base of Mount Sharp at its "Mojave" work site in an area nicknamed "Pahrump Hills." The self portrait, assembled from dozens of high-resolution photos taken by the rover's outstretched robotic arm-mounted MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) camera, has taken in a wide-angle, capturing many points of scientific interest.

ANALYSIS: Robot Smash! Curiosity Shatters Mars Rock Slab

In the annotated image below, which was captured between Jan. 14 and Jan. 29, some areas where Curiosity has investigated on its route up the base of Mount Starp are labelled. Mojave, for example, is its most recent target, having used its drill (also attached to its robotic arm) to bore out samples of powdered rock. These samples have been loaded into Curiosity's on-board chemistry lab to deduce which minerals the rock contains.

Operations such as these have provided mineral evidence of extensive ancient water on the Martian surface, particularly inside Gale Crater, where planetary scientists, with the help of Curiosity, have discovered that it used to be filled with water. Evidence of Mars organics have also appeared in Curiosity's samples, providing further compelling evidence of Mars' ancient habitable potential.

NEWS: Curiosity Confirms Organics on Mars

Annotated in yellow is the previous "Confidence Hills" drilling site and, most recently, the rover's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., were assessing "Telegraph Peak" as its latest drilling site, which is also noted.

The Pahrump Hills area is typically pale rock, as it is mostly dust free, but to the right of the self portrait, a darker landscape can be seen, a landscape awash with rippled sand. In the distance behind Curiosity, the peak of Mount Sharp can be seen (left), whereas the rim of Gale Crater looms on the horizon to the right.

NEWS: Mars Rover Curiosity Drills into Mount Sharp

Curiosity will often be commanded to take multiple images of itself so engineers can assess the condition of the rover at regular intervals. But in this case, JPL mission scientists wanted a bigger panorama to encapsulate the rich science that is currently being carried out by our busy robotic Mars geologist.

For more information on how this image was made possible, browse the JPL news release.

NASA's rover Curiosity has begun drilling operations for the third time on Mars. Currently located at a geologically interesting location nicknamed "The Kimberley," the one-ton rover also took the opportunity to photograph itself and the surrounding landscape in some stunning Martian "selfies." In this scene, Curiosity appears to be leaning its "head" -- a suite of instruments including the Chemcam (the laser "eye") and Mastcam cameras -- to the side, capturing the 5 kilometer-high Aeolis Mons (a.k.a. "Mount Sharp") on the horizon. The self portrait has been stitched together

by Discovery News' Jason Major

from a series of raw photographs (taken on sol 613, April 28, of the mission) by Curiosity's robotic arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument.

In this scene, Curiosity appears to be concentrating hard on a rock of interest -- dubbed "Windjana" by mission scientists after a gorge in Western Australia -- that it has cleaned with its robotic arm-mounted Dust Abrasion Tool. A grey circular patch can be seen on the otherwise rusty rock's surface where the tool has scrubbed away any surface dust ready for analysis and drilling. This beautiful selfie was created

by JPL's Doug Ellison

, after assembling a collection of photos from the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on sol 613 (April 28) of the mission. Curiosity's selfies not only produce some breathtaking scenes, they are also used by mission engineers to keep tabs on the condition of the rover the more time it is exposed to the harsh Martian environment.

Curiosity used its Mastcam to photograph this closeup of its Rock Abrasion Tool. The instrument spins the wire-bristle brush over rock surfaces to remove layers of dust that has accumulated.

After brushing, a grey circle of rock beneath the ruddy Mars dust is exposed for further analysis. In this photo by Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), the texture of Mars dust is obvious and fine cracks or seams in "Windjana" can be seen. "In the brushed spot, we can see that the rock is fine-grained, its true color is much grayer than the surface dust, and some portions of the rock are harder than others, creating the interesting bumpy textures,"

said Melissa Rice

, Curiosity science team member, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. "All of these traits reinforce our interest in drilling here in order understand the chemistry of the fluids that bound these grains together to form the rock."

On April 29, Curiosity used its drill to bore a 2 centimeter hole into Windjana. This is only the third rock Curiosity has drilled into since landing on the red planet on Aug. 5, 2012. The grey color obviously extends deeper into the rock than just on its surface, and the powder created can provide a pristine rock sample for further analysis, helping mission scientists understand how the rock formed and under what environmental conditions.

The first two drilled rocks were located in Yellowknife Bay, approximately 4 kilometers from The Kimberley. Those rocks were determined to be mudstone slabs formed through water action and sediment, providing compelling evidence that the interior of Gale Crater used to play host to a lakebed and may have provided a habitable environment for ancient microbial life. This new drilling operation will provide more clues as to how rock formed in the region, revealing more tantalizing clues as to the past habitability of the red planet.