Images recently taken by NASA's Mars Curiosity rover have shown that just like Earth, the Red Planet also has stunning layered rock formations in its Murray Buttes region.
Curiosity took the photos on Sept. 8 using its Mast Camera (Mastcam), which was designed to take color images and video footages of the Martian terrain. The team behind the mission plans to stitch together images taken by Curiosity at this location to form several large color mosaics.
"The visual drama of Murray Buttes along Curiosity's planned route up lower Mount Sharp was anticipated when the site was informally named nearly three years ago to honor Caltech planetary scientist Bruce Murray," NASA said.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California believe that the buttes and mesas that rise above the Martian surface were eroded remnants of ancient sandstones that formed when winds deposited sand after the formation of lower Mount Sharp.
These Martian buttes and mesas are capped with wind erosion-resistant rock, which helps preserve the monumental remnants of rock layers that used to more fully cover the underlying layers.
Curiosity Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that studying the buttes up close provided scientists with a better understanding of the ancient sand dunes.
Mount Sharp, officially called Aeolis Mons, is Curiosity's long-term prime destination. The rover landed near Mount Sharp in 2012 and reached the mountain's base two years later after finding proof on surrounding plains that the ancient lakes on the Red Planet had conditions that would have allowed microbes to thrive if Mars has hosted life.
Curiosity has already exited the buttes, where it has been driving in for more than one month. The rover started its latest drilling campaign on a new location in Sept. 9. Once the drilling is completed, Curiosity will continue to traverse higher up Mount Sharp, where it would leave behind the spectacular rock formations.
Curiosity is conducting investigations on Mount Sharp so scientists would know how and when the habitable conditions of ancient Mars from the earlier findings of the mission evolved into the drier and less favorable world that it is today.
Findings of Curiosity would not only help answer questions about life on this extraterrestrial world. These would also better equip the U.S. space agency in preparation for the planned manned mission to planet Mars.
Researchers are already working on technologies such as expandable habitats that could make this ambitious plan possible.