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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has reached its next study area and is now scoping out rocks that it will take an up-close look at over the next few weeks.

The Curiosity rover snapped new photos of Mars after driving 98 feet on Wednesday and topping a small hill that affords a good view of the surrounding area, which NASA scientists have dubbed "the Kimberley," officials said.

"This is the spot on the map we've been headed for, on a little rise that gives us a great view for context imaging of the outcrops at the Kimberley," Melissa Rice of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the science team lead for Curiosity's work at the site, said in a statement.

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover is shown in a NASA handout composite image released May 30, 2013.NASA via Reuters file

Four different types of rock intersect at the Kimberley, providing Curiosity with a wealth of material to study. The rover is expected to do a great deal of work at the site, conducting its most extensive analyses since leaving a spot called "Yellowknife Bay" last year, NASA officials said.

Curiosity found evidence of an ancient stream-and-lake system at Yellowknife Bay, suggesting that the area could have supported microbial life billions of years ago.

The activities at the Kimberley represent a pause in Curiosity's long drive to the towering Mount Sharp, which has been the rover's main science destination since before its November 2011 launch. Mount Sharp's foothills record a history of Mars' changing environmental conditions over time, and mission officials want Curiosity to read that history like a book as it climbs up through the mountain's lower reaches.

The Curiosity rover has now driven a total of 3.8 miles since touching down inside the Red Planet's huge Gale Crater in August 2012.

The rover has a ways to go yet before reaching Mount Sharp, however. The trek from Yellowknife Bay to the mountain's foothills will cover more than 5 miles. Curiosity should get there around the middle of this year, mission officials have said.

- Mike Wall,

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