The first site is a geologically-rich area known as “Glenelg” that lies about 550 yards from where Curiosity touched down almost two weeks ago.
After a series of instrument and wheel tests that will last for at least the next couple of weeks, the rover will begin driving toward Glenelg, named after a series of rock formations in northern Canada.
That journey, says project scientist John Grotzinger, should take about three to four weeks. (Curiosity’s top speed is only 1.5 inches per second, which ABC News researcher Natalie Savits calculated to equal 0.0823 miles per hour.)
After reaching Glenelg, Grotzinger says Curiosity will spend approximately six weeks using scoops, drills, cameras and lasers to examine rocks and soil for signs that a warmer and wetter Mars may have once supported microbial life.
By the end of December, Grotzinger says Curiosity should be ready for a much longer road trip to its next stop: the base of a three-mile-high mountain known as Mt. Sharp. The area is described as being very similar to the four corners area of the southwestern United States.
Both sites can be seen in this image taken from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, passing overhead, which scientists are excitedly referring to as their “treasure map.”
The name “Glenelg,” the admittedly-geeky science team points out, is a palindrome. (Try reading it backwards.)
“The important point about that,” Grotzinger explains, “is that once we get done with the science, [Curiosity] will have to pass trough that area again, so we get it both coming and going.”