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Nasa's Curiosity rover has sent back some holiday pics from Mars

The planet’s layered geologic past is shown in new color images returned by the unmanned rover, which is exploring lower Mount Sharp.

Image: Nasa

NASA HAS RELEASED new images of rock formations shot by their Curiosity rover, which is currently traversing the Red Planet.

The layered geological past of Mars is laid bare in the new colour images returned by the unmanned rover, which is currently exploring the ‘Murray Buttes’ region of lower Mount Sharp.

Curiosity took the images with its Mast Camera two days ago.

“Curiosity’s science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The Martian buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after the formation of lower Mount Sharp.

Mars 2 A sloping hillside within the 'Murray Buttes' region on lower Mount Sharp. The rim of Gale Crater, where the rover has been active since landing in 2012, is visible in the distance, through the dusty haze. Source: Nasa

Groundwater

Vasavada added:

Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today.

The new images represent Curiosity’s last stop in the Murray Buttes, where the rover has been driving for just over a month.

Drilling campaign

As of this week, Curiosity has exited these buttes toward the south, driving up to the base of the final butte on its way out. In this location, the rover began its latest drilling campaign on 9 Sept.

Mars 4 A hillside outcrop with layered rocks within the 'Murray Buttes' region on lower Mount Sharp, Mars. Source: Nasa

After this drilling is completed, Curiosity will continue farther south and higher up Mount Sharp, leaving behind these spectacular formations.

Ancient lakes

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in 2012.

It reached the base of the mountain in 2014 after successfully finding evidence on the surrounding plains that ancient Martian lakes offered conditions that would have been favorable for microbes if Mars has ever hosted life.

Mars 3 Sloping buttes and layered outcrops on lower Mount Sharp. The buttes and mesas rising above the surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed. The layer is called the 'Stimson formation'. The layering within the sandstone is called cross-bedding, indicating that the sandstone was deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes. Source: Nasa

Rock layers forming the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as sediment within ancient lakes billions of years ago.

On Mount Sharp, Curiosity is investigating how and when the habitable ancient conditions known from the mission’s earlier findings evolved into conditions drier and less favourable for life.

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