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NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Petrified Sand Dunes On Mars

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The Curiosity Rover that is currently surveying the geological features of Mars has sent back images of what appears to be deposits of sandstone that turned into petrified sand dunes.

The recent photographs of the red planet were captured using the Mast Camera (Mastcam) onboard NASA's rover during its exploration on Aug. 27. The individual images were later combined into a single panoramic view of Mars that was released by the science team involved in the Curiosity project.

According to NASA researchers, the sandstone formation is part of a layer of Martian soil that they have designated the Stimson unit. The Mastcam image shows that the formation has a crossbedding structure on a large scale, which the Curiosity team believes to be deposits of sand dunes that were formed by blowing wind.

The petrified sand dunes seen on the images from Mars closely resemble the ones that are typically found in the Southwest region of the United States. Scientists often use the orientation of the crossbedding and its geometry to determine specific information on which directions the winds that created the sand dunes came from.

The Stimson unit that the researchers discovered covers a mudstone layer that was deposited in a lake-like environment.

NASA's Curiosity Rover has been continuously examining younger geological features of Mount Sharp and at higher elevations, beginning with the mudstone layer located at the base of the mountain. These data will help the researchers find out about the potential changes in the ancient environment of the area.

Curiosity has so far traveled about 103 yards (94 meters) southward in the weeks following its Aug. 27 exploration. The Stimson unit's sandstone outcrops are still accessible to the Martian explorer, and the science team plans to make use of Curiosity in order to gather and analyze a sample of the sandstone drilled from the Stimson unit this month.

The American space agency's Curiosity Rover has been exploring the surface features of Mars since the beginning of August 2012. The explorer has reached the foot of Mount Sharp last year following a successful investigation of Martian outcrops bear its landing site and then making its way to the rocky mountain.

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