UPDATED: February 6, 2014
NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover has crossed a dune that stands across a gateway to a southwestward route favored by the rover team for driving to future science destinations.
After reaching the west side of the 3-foot-tall (1-meter-tall) dune today, the rover looked back at its tracks down the western slope. A raw image of the rover's tracks over the dune is at: http://1.usa.gov/Mw9HmZ .
The dune sits between low scarps at a site called "Dingo Gap" inside Mars' Gale Crater. Now that Curiosity has passed through the gap, engineers and scientists plan to direct the mobile laboratory toward a location of interest where different rock types intersect. That is a candidate site for next use of the rover's drill. Beyond that, the drive will continue toward the mission's long-term science destination on lower slopes of Mount Sharp, in the middle of the crater.
The team operating NASA's Curiosity Mars rover will likely drive the rover westward over a dune and across a valley with fewer sharp rock hazards than alternative routes.
A final decision on whether to pass through this valley will ride on evaluation of a short drive planned this week toward the top of the dune that lies across "Dingo Gap." The dune is about 3 feet (1 meter) high at its center, tapered off at both sides of the gap between two low scarps. A color view assembled from images taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) on the east side of the dune shows details of the valley that the rover may traverse this month.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For more information about Curiosity, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/. You can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.