The layered rocks of the Murray Buttes on Mars tell its geological history

Sloping buttes and layered outcrops within the Murray Buttes (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Sloping buttes and layered outcrops within the Murray Buttes (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA published a series of photographs taken by the Mars Rover Curiosity that show the landscape of the Martian area called “Murray Buttes”. Those are very high quality images captured on September 8, 2016 using the Mast Camera (MastCam) instrument, consisting of two cameras able to get among other things photographs in natural colors. The result is a breathtaking view which at the same time is very interesting from the scientific point of view because the photographed stratified rocks show traces of Mars’ geological history.

The Mars Rover Curiosity reached Mount Sharp in early September 2014 and Murray Buttes is on its slopes. The buttes are small isolated hills existing also on Earth. The Martians buttes are the eroded remains of ancient sandstones originated when winds deposited sand after the slopes of Mount Sharp had formed.

Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity Project Scientist at NASA’s JPL, explained that studying the buttes closely offered a better understanding of the ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape we see today. In short, these are new traces of the action of liquid water when Mars was young.

In recent days, the Mars Rover Curiosity left the last of these buttes after spending a little over a month collecting data through photographs and analyzes that followed various drilling. Now it resumed it journey south, slowly climbing Mount Sharp while the mission scientists are studying the data received. The presence of the buttes at times interfered with its communication with the probes in orbit that act as radio relay but slowly the photographs and the other data were transmitted.

At the slopes of Mount Sharp the Mars Rover Curiosity found evidence of the ancient existing conditions on the planet Mars, similar to those existing on Earth. NASA presented them over time and in October 2015 published the latest evidence that between 3.8 and 3.3 billion years ago there were lakes in what is now Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed in 2012.

The various rock layers tell a geological history that NASA scientists but also ESA’s are slowly trying to reconstruct examining the data collected by rovers and space probes orbiting Mars. The landscape created by Murray Buttes’ layered rocks raised the Curiosity mission scientists’ enthusiasm as they feel that the photographs taken can compete with those of national parks of the USA.

Closeup of layered rocks within the Murray Buttes (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
Closeup of layered rocks within the Murray Buttes (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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