The Curiosity rover during its ascent.
  • NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted Curiosity climbing a rocky outcrop known as Mont Mercou.
  • The photo was taken at an altitude of 167.5 miles above the rover.
  • The hills beyond the area, which gained its nickname from a French mountain, are rich in sulfates.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) snapped a dramatic image of the Curiosity rover climbing Mont Mercou, a terrene near the centre of Gale Crater, according to the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at The University of Arizona.

MRO captured the image on April 18 using its High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment tool (HiRISE), which can spot features as small as a kitchen table. So, even at an altitude of 167.5 miles above the rover at the time, the car-sized Curiosity rover was in plain sight, according to the HiRISE team's image description.

Since 2014, Curiosity has been climbing the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp, the central peak of the Gale Crater. Its mission has been to scour the red planet for past signs of microbial life. In early March, Curiosity began approaching Mont Mercou, which is named after a mountain in France, as Insider reported.

In its first two years on Mars, Curiosity confirmed that the Gale Crater was a lake filled with the chemical ingredients suitable for life. Since then, Curiosity has unearthed organic material, sniffed out mysterious spikes in the Martian atmosphere's methane levels, and discovered evidence that small, salty ponds remained as Mars dried out.

Curiosity will likely uncover more secrets about Mars' past as it explores Mont Mercou.

The hills just beyond Mont Mercou are prolific in sulfates, "so that is where we're headed," said Curiosity's deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in a video update.

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