For more than a year now, NASA's Curiosity rover has toiled away in a region of Mars known as Vera Rubin Ridge, but it has now headed off for new territory. The robot has turned its attention to a clay-heavy area of Mount Sharp, but didn't say goodbye without snapping a farewell selfie first.

Curiosity has plotted an impressive path since landing on Mars in August of 2012, covering a distance of around 11 mi (17.7 km) and, perhaps more impressively, climbing more than 1,000 ft (300 m) above its landing site.

Highlights include its first drilling mission in early 2013 at Yellowknife Bay, studying peculiar sand ripples at the Namib Dune in 2016 and imaging the breathtaking formation of the Murray Buttes in September of the same year.

Curiosity began exploring the Vera Rubin Ridge in September of 2017, where in June 2018 it detected organic molecules dating back at least three billion years. Then, in December, Curiosity drilled its 19th sample at a location on the ridge called Rock Hall. Then on January 15, it took a photo comprised of 57 individual images at the drill site using its Mars Hand Lens Imager, in which the hole can be seen to the lower-left of the rover (seen above).

It will now travel toward an area with a number of clay-rich rocks and use a new drilling technique to gather samples of the material. Scientists are particularly excited about the potential for discovery here, as clay minerals need water to form and the samples could offer new clues around how long the stuff of life has existed on Mars.

Source: NASA