Curiosity is revealing more and more incredible geology on Mars. The latest batch of images from the NASA rover show in spectacular detail the eroded sandstones of the Red Planet, which are remarkably similar to rock formations found on Earth.
"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, in a statement.
The rover has just finished exploring the Murray Buttes, a series of small hills with steep and often vertical sides. It has been driving around them for about one month and last week got very close to one of these buttes, where the pictures come from. Curiosity has also performed some drilling, and it is now back on the road due south towards its goal, Mount Sharp.
Curiosity has been exploring Gale Crater since it arrived there in 2012, and it has slowly made its way towards Mount Sharp, the central feature of the crater. On its journey, the rover has been collecting samples, taking photos, and studying the general structures in its environment. Gale Crater is believed to be an ancient lake bed, and it might have at one point hosted microbial life.
The Murray Buttes, in particular, are a perfect example of sandstone, a type of sedimentary rock formed when sand dunes are cemented and then compacted by layers accumulating on top. In this case, the rocks formed from sediment in the ancient lake, and the buttes were formed over billions of years by the eroding action of the wind, slowly taking away material at the foot of Mount Sharp.
"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," Vasavada added.
These image, though, are just a stunning taste of things to come. The team is preparing a large color mosaic of the region by assembling all the images the incredible rover took in the last few weeks.