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Image: Mars rover Curiosity
NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity spent its first Christmas on Mars on "Grandma's House," a previously unexplored part of Yellowknife Bay in the Gale Crater.
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updated 12/27/2012 6:29:06 PM ET 2012-12-27T23:29:06

NASA's Curiosity rover worked through the holiday season on Mars by taking a close look at an intriguing bit of Martian terrain, a region scientists have lovingly nicknamed "Grandma's House."

The Curiosity rover is currently parked inside Yellowknife Bay, a shallow depression of odd terrain nestled inside the rover's vast Gale crater landing site. "Grandma's House" is an informal name for Curiosity's holiday spot inside the bay, rover team member Colette Lohr said in a NASA video.

"This is a really exciting time for the team because we've started to do what we call discovery-driven planning," said Lohr, Curiosity tactical uplink lead at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "And this is, in a sense, when we hand the rover keys to the science team."

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Curiosity's handlers spent two days preloading the rover with instructions for science observations over 11 Martian days (or sols), which allowed rover team members to spend the year-end holidays with their families and friends.

The rover didn't get much of a vacation. It spent Christmas and Christmas Eve recording a 360-degree panoramic view of Yellowknife Bay that should give researchers an even clearer view of the area, Lohr said.

Yellowknife Bay, a 2-foot-deep basin, is an interesting spot for Mars scientists because the area contains terrain unlike any yet seen by the Curiosity rover. Mission scientists are studying rock targets in the region in order to pick one for Curiosity to drill inside.

Curiosity has been studying the region using its mast-mounted cameras and laser, but the ultimate goal is the first trial of the rover's percussive drill.

The instrument is designed to drill inside a rock and collect the powdery rock sample from the interior so it can be analyzed by other onboard tools — something never-before attempted on Mars, NASA officials said. The drilling test is set for early in 2013.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 5 to begin exploring the Red Planet. The $2.5 billion rover's primary mission is to determine if its Gale crater landing site could have ever supported primitive microbial life.

Curiosity is currently driving toward a spot called Glenelg near the base of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile mountain that rises up from the center of its Gale crater landing site.

Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also onFacebook & Google+.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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