On September 8th, the rover Curiosity was busy snapping stunning images on its 1,454th Martian day, or sol, on Mars. New color images show the toll wind has taken on the planet’s desolate surface over the years. Specifically, the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp.
These images show the eroded remnants of sandstone that first formed when winds deposited vast amounts of sand after lower Mount Sharp formed. NASA says the layering within the sandstone is called “cross-bedding,” and it points to the sandstone being deposited by wind as migrating sand dunes. It’s an ongoing process that continues to reshape Mars to this day.
Curiosity’s latest pictures aren’t just a visual treat. There’s plenty they can tell us scientifically too. “Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by the groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
Curiosity’s one-month road trip of ‘Murray Buttes’ is coming to an end. These images show us the rover’s last stops in the region before moving on. On September 9th, the rover stopped admiring the view and began its latest drilling campaign. Once this drilling campaign wraps up, Curiosity will continue further south as it keeps climbing higher up Mount Sharp.
NASA hopes the rover’s trek up Mount Sharp will shed light on how and when habitable ancient conditions gave way to the dry wasteland we see today.
Mars photography with Mastcam
The beautiful images of Mars are made possible thanks to the Mast Camera, also known as Mastcam. It consists of two cameras. One moderate-resolution lens and another high-resolution lens to study distant landscapes.
Mastcam isn’t all that different from a simple point and shoot camera people use on Earth. Mastcam takes single-exposure, color snapshots according to its instrument page.
Did You Know: An improved version of the Mastcam, called Mastcam-Z, offers zoom lenses. That version wasn’t included in the Curiosity because it couldn’t complete the necessary testing before Curiosity’s launch. But Mastcam-Z was selected for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission.
Image credits: NASA