On NASA's Mars Curiosity rover's seventh birthday, here are some of its biggest finds

Curiosity is the largest rover built by NASA till date, weighing 899 kgs and moving at a speed of 30 mph.

Curiosity killed the cat

but satisfaction brought it back.

Bet you haven't heard that ending before.

Curiosity, NASA's fourth rover on Mars, has completed seven years on the Red Planet! After being launched on an Atlas V 541 on 26 November 2011 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Curiosity touched down on Mars on 5 August 2012. Its landing site is one of the best-understood regions on Mars today, the Gale crater, which was probably once a dry lake.

Curiosity has traveled a total of 21 kilometers and ascended 368 meters to reach its current location. Along the way, Curiosity also made a big discovery: Mars had the conditions needed to support microbial life in the ancient past.

NASA's Curiosity rover in its previous site location at Vera Rubin Ridge. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL

NASA's Curiosity rover in its previous site location at Vera Rubin Ridge. Image courtesy: NASA/JPL

The rover's main mission was to answer the question: Did Mars have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms? As we now know, the rover found the answer to that question pretty early on in its mission. Not just that Mars had life on it, but that it had an atmosphere in which microbes could thrive — a mix of sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon.

One of the instruments fitted onto Curiosity also made the discovery that the amounts of methane in the Martian air vary throughout the year. This is exciting news, since a methane cycle may have contributions from ancient life that survived.

Curiosity also found that millions of years ago, Mars has rivers and lakes on its surface. One river was ankle-to-hip-deep, based on pebbles that the rover found which were smooth from the flow of water. They might even have moved along the river's flow and ended up downstream. A sample drilled by the rover found clay minerals and salt, proving that fresh, potable water once flowed on the planet.

The rover is controlled by a team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Originally, Curiosity was to retire after its mission life of two years, but it got an indefinite extension on 5 August 2017.

You can watch Curiosity in action, and interact with an AR model of Curiosity here.

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