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Curiosity rover says goodbye to 'Mars Rat'

What a lonely world. Curiosity is set to begin the next part of its mission, leaving behind the rat-shaped rock that has prompted speculation of alien rodents.

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Curiosity, shown in a self-portrait, is on the road toward Mount Sharp, the primary target of a planned two-year mission to search for habitats that could have supported life.

NASA/Reuters

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A hero's journey is never easy. Mars rover Curiosity is readying to begin the next part of its journey, leaving behind its rat-shaped rock friend.

Curiosity is currently finishing a six-month investigation of a Mars plot smaller than a football field, the first destination in its mission. In September, the rover snapped a photo of a rock there that looked shaped suspiciously like a rat. The picture went viral – Curiosity, it seemed, had found a pal in an otherwise lonely world.

Alone again, Curiosity will now chug five miles to the base Mount Sharp, searching there and along the way for evidence that will tell us more about the ancient Martian environment and possibilities for life there. Images of Mount Sharp taken from orbit and pictures that Curiosity has taken from a distance have already revealed potential points of interest to scientists on Curiosity's route.

"We're hitting full stride," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., in a press release. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn't mean we're not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

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