Space

Curiosity snaps stunning 360 panorama of Earth-like rock formations on Mars

Part of the 360 image captured by Curiosity's Mastcam earlier this month
Part of the 360 image captured by Curiosity's Mastcam earlier this month
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Gale Crater, Mars, with landing target for the Curiosity marked by an ellipse, near Mount Sharp
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Gale Crater, Mars, with landing target for the Curiosity marked by an ellipse, near Mount Sharp
Selfie taken last year by the Mars Rover Curiosity
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Selfie taken last year by the Mars Rover Curiosity
Part of the 360 image captured by Curiosity's Mastcam earlier this month
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Part of the 360 image captured by Curiosity's Mastcam earlier this month
Curiosity's mast camera captured a 360 degree panorama of a Martian region informally called the Murray Buttes
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Curiosity's mast camera captured a 360 degree panorama of a Martian region informally called the Murray Buttes

Some day in the distant future, homesick Mars colonists in need of comfort might take a quick jaunt up Mt. Sharp to soak up a view that looks just like desert rock formations on Earth. A stunning new 360-degree color image taken on Mars on Aug. 5 by NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, looks at first glance like it could have been taken in parts of the US southwest, Australia, Africa, Spain or India.

The mosaic of photos transmitted by Curiosity are of a Martian region informally called the Murray Buttes, named nearly three years ago in honor of Caltech planetary scientist Bruce Murray, a former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the Curiosity mission for NASA.

The images show eroded desert rock formations called mesas and buttes towering above a flat, desert-like foreground, part of a geological layer formed from lakebed mud deposits.

Mesas and buttes are geological terms for hard rock formations usually formed in arid regions. A mesa (from the Spanish word for "table") is a large, elevated area with a flat top and steep sides, called a tableland in some countries. A butte (pronounced "byoot") is a taller, steeper tower of rock. Both structures are created as weathering by wind or water slowly erode softer rock surrounding harder rock.

Gale Crater, Mars, with landing target for the Curiosity marked by an ellipse, near Mount Sharp
Gale Crater, Mars, with landing target for the Curiosity marked by an ellipse, near Mount Sharp

The Mars rover passed the formations as part of its long journey up lower Mount Sharp, a peak that rises 18,000 ft above the Gale crater (pictured above), where Curiosity originally landed.

The rover used its mast camera to capture dozens of images that make up the final composite. The mesa to the left of the Curiosity's robotic arm is reported to be about 50 feet (15 m) high, and about 300 feet (90 m) from the rover's location. On the left side of the mesa, an upper portion of Mount Sharp can be seen.

The panorama seems a fitting celebration of the day the images were taken – on the four-year anniversary (in Earth years) of the day the Curiosity rover landed on Mars.

Curiosity's mast camera captured a 360 degree panorama of a Martian region informally called the Murray Buttes
Curiosity's mast camera captured a 360 degree panorama of a Martian region informally called the Murray Buttes

Curiosity is one of two automated vehicles currently exploring Mars. The Gale Crater and the mountain within it are of particular interest because scientists believe the crater was formed when a meteor hit Mars around 3.5 billion years ago. The region may hold sediments and layers of rock that can help us learn much about Mars and its history.

Earlier in its mission on Mars, Curiosity accomplished its main goal by helping scientists perform an extensive soil analysis that revealed that Gale once contained an ancient freshwater lake that could have been hospitable for microbial life. On Dec. 16, 2014, NASA reported that Curiosity had measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, and detected other organic molecules in a rock sample collected by the rover's drill.

Selfie taken last year by the Mars Rover Curiosity
Selfie taken last year by the Mars Rover Curiosity

The Curiosity rover is now on an extended mission to examine successively younger layers of rock as it climbs the lower parts of Mount Sharp, to try to learn more about the current conditions on Mars, and to solve the mystery of why the habitable freshwater lake conditions in the region evolved into the harsher, arid conditions of modern Mars.

The following video allows you to pan around the Murray Buttes.

Source: NASA

NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover at Murray Buttes (360 View)

3 comments
KeithMeredith
The tremendous amounts of money spent on the "Space Race" should be reduced in order that we eliminate poverty in the USA. While these great space achievements are nice, it is sickening to know that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and poorer. That leaves the question are the oligarchs planning to live on Mars now they have raped Mother Earth and its people? We hope so....These folk are the true aliens.
JimMcLeod
This makes me yearn for my home planet.
slickrickulous
@KeithMeredith The Atlas V that MSL was launched on was built by the private sector and utilizes a Russian main rocket engine. Curiosity contains components provided by several different countries (e.g. France/Spain/Germany/Canada), including a detector built and funded by - you guessed it - Russia. So the modern day "space race" is actually one of the most cooperative international ventures to ever exist. 1/10th of the U.S. defense budget is equivalent to 6 times NASA's budget. Perhaps that would be a better place to start saving for your poverty fund.