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Fraser
2016-Sep-12, 06:00 PM
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Since its deployment in 2012 to the surface of Mars, the Curiosity (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html) rover has sent back many breathtaking images of the Red Planet. In addition to snapping photos of the comet Siding Spring (http://www.universetoday.com/116352/curiosity-rover-snaps-photos-of-comet-siding-spring-giant-sunspot-and-mars-shine/) and Earth from the surface (http://www.universetoday.com/109095/you-are-here-curiositys-1st-photo-of-home-planet-earth-from-mars/), not to mention some wonderful panoramic selfies (http://www.universetoday.com/112858/zoom-around-curiositys-view-on-mars-with-a-new-interactive-panorama/), the rover has also taken countless images that show the geology and surface features of Mars' in stunning detail.
And with the latest photos to be released by NASA, the Curiosity rover has provided us with a wonderful look at the "Murray Buttes" region, which is in the lower part of Mount Sharp. These images were taken by the Curiosity Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sept. 8th, and provide some lovely insight into the geological history of the region.
Using these images, the Curiosity team hopes to assemble another impressive color mosaic that will give a detailed look at the region's rocky, desert-like landscape. As you can see from the images provided, the region is characterized by mesas and buttes, which are the eroded remnants of ancient sandstone. Much like other spots around Mount Sharp, the area is of particular interest to the Curiosity team.
For years, scientists have understood that the rock layers that form the base of Mount Sharp accumulated as a result of sediment being deposited within the ancient lake bed billions of years ago. In this respect, the geological formations are similar to those found in the desert regions of the southwestern United States.
Ashwin Vasavada, the Curiosity Project Scientist of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained:

"Curiosity's science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars. 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."
These sediment layers are believed to have been laid down over the course of 2 billion years, and may have completely filled the crater at one time. Since it is widely believed that lakes and streams existed in the Gale Crater 3.3 - 3.8 billion years ago, some of the lower sediment layers may have originally been deposited on a lake bed.
For this reason, the Curiosity team also took drill samples from the Murray Buttes area for analysis. This began on Sept. 9th, after the rover was finished taking pictures of the area. After the drilling is completed, Curiosity will continue farther south and higher up Mount Sharp, leaving behind these spectacular formations.
These pictures represent Curiosity's last stop in the Murray Buttes, where the rover has been spending the past month. And as of this past September 11th, 2016, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for a total of 4 years and 36 days (or 1497 Earth days; 1458 sols) since it landed on August 6th, 2012.
One has to wonder how the pareidolia folks are going to interpret these ones. After "seeing" a rat, a lizard, a doughnut, a coffin, and so forth, what's left? Might I suggest that the top image kind of looks like a statue-column?
Further Reading: NASA - Solar System Exploration (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/2016/09/09/mars-rover-views-spectacular-layered-rock-formations)
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