As the rover continues to climb Mount Sharpe, distinctive bench-like rock formations have been discovered.
It’s been 3,000 Martian days or soles since Curiosity touched Mars on August 6, 2012, and the rover continues to make new discoveries during its gradual ascent to Sharpe, a 3-mile (5-kilometer) mountain it has been exploring since 2014. Geologists were intrigued to see a series of rock “benches” in the latest panorama of the mission.
Combined with 122 images taken on November 18, 2020, the mission’s 2946th evil, the panorama was taken by Mast Camera or Mastcam, which serves as the main “eyes” of the rover. Towards the center of the panorama is the floor of Gale Crater, the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) bowl that houses Mount Sharpe. On the horizon is the northern edge of the crater. To the right is the upper part of Mount Sharpe, which has rock layers formed by lakes and streams billions of years ago.
The curved rock terraces that define the area can be formed when there are harder and softer rock layers on the slope. As the softer layers erode, the harder layers form small rocks, leaving behind bench-like formations. They can also form during a landslide, when huge, curved slabs of rock base slide down. The Curiosity team has seen benches in Gale Crater before, but rarely forms such a picturesque group of steps.
“Our research team is excited to find out how they formed and what they mean for Gail’s ancient environment,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Southern California Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built and operated the rover.
But don’t expect a rover that’s so busy to stay in place: Soon after shooting the new panorama, it set off for higher ground. This year, the rover was driving through a clay zone called Glen Toridon. After stopping at the site with the nickname “Mary Anning”, he continues to the next main layer, called the “sulfate-bearing unit”.
Curiosity takes selfies with “Mary Anning” on the red planet
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