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NASA spots Mars surprise at Curiosity rover work site

The Red Planet is looking a little less red near the Mars Curiosity rover.

The image on the left shows Mars on Sept. 14 and the image on the right shows the same spot on Oct. 25.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Curiosity rover went on a hiatus from science operations after it encountered a data transmission problem in September. It's now back at work. The rover's position on Mars hasn't changed, but the view of the surface nearby sure has.

Curiosity team member Melissa Rice posted a rover mission update this week saying, "there were some surprises in store for us!" 

A view of the rover's location from before the data glitch shows an aborted drilling operation that left a smattering of gray dust across the reddish-brown landscape. The new look from late October shows the same spot wiped clean of the tailings and swept of the brown soil and red dust that was there before.

"So while Curiosity has been sitting still, the winds have been moving, sweeping the workspace clean," Rice writes.   

The Curiosity team plans to take close-up images of the cleaned area to investigate details in the rock, particularly the lighter veins "peppered with interesting dark inclusions." The rover's cameras will also look around to see if it can spot more changes from the wind.

The scene at Curiosity's work site shows why NASA is hopeful that winds will help clean off the solar panels on the long-silent Mars Opportunity rover. Opportunity is located far away from Curiosity and has been quiet since June when a global dust storm struck the planet. 

Mars is heading into a particularly windy season, which could last for several months. The rovers will welcome a new NASA mission in late November when the InSight lander is expected to touch down to study the planet's interior and listen for "Marsquakes."