NASA’s Curiosity rover has returned stunning photos from the lower regions of a Martian mountain.
Captured by the rover’s Mast Camera, the colour images reveal the Red Planet’s finely layered geologic history.
The photos were taken on Curiosity’s month-long exploration of the Murray Buttes region of lower Mount Sharp.
After Mount Sharp formed, winds deposited sand near the base, which eventually formed sandstone.
Scientists believe the buttes and mesas captured by Curiosity are the eroded remnants of that formation.
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Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity project scientist at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:
“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.”
Curiosity is now set leave behind Murray Buttes to make its way higher up Mount Sharp.
NASA geologists believe the ancient mountain formed billions of year ago from sediment accumulated in lakes.
The rover landed near Mount Sharp in 2012, reaching the base by 2014, where it found evidence the lakes would’ve once offered favourable conditions for microbes if the planet had ever hosted life.
As the rover continues its journey up the mountain, scientists hope it will throw light on how once habitable environment transitioned into the dry, dusty desert visible today.