Curiosity reveals Mars' beautiful buttes

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In new high resolution images from NASA's Curiosity rover, finely layered rocks can be seen in the Murray Buttes region of lower Mount Sharp, on Mars(Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA's Curiosity rover has sent back some more snaps of its Martian road trip up Mount Sharp. A month after the rover captured the Murray Buttes region in a 360-degree panorama, its latest photos show off some of the area's layered rock formations in more detail, providing a glimpse into the Red Planet's geological history.

After a month-long journey across the region, Curiosity left the Murray Buttes last week, but not before doing a little more drilling and taking some close up shots of the rocky outcrops with its Mast Camera. Formed by wind eroding ancient sandstone structures, these buttes and mesas bring to mind some landscapes a little closer to home.

"Curiosity's science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars," says Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity Project Scientist. "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."

Providing a visible geological record of the planet's history, these photos slot in nicely with the project's overall goal of examining whether ancient Mars may have been more supportive of life than its hostile present-day self.

Named after Bruce Murray, a former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who passed away in 2013, the Murray Buttes are just the latest stop on Curiosity's journey. Recently celebrating four years on the Red Planet, the rover touched down at Bradbury Landing in 2012 and, after reaching the foot of Mount Sharp in 2014, it soon discovered evidence that the area may once have been a lakebed.

Curiosity has now exited the Murray Buttes to the south, continuing to climb Mount Sharp as it works to piece together the puzzle of Mars' journey from hospitable past to inhospitable present. Using the large collection of images taken in the Murray Buttes region, the rover team plans to put together several large, color mosaics in the near future.

Source: JPL NASA

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