NASA's Curiosity rover has seen a lot of cool stuff since it pulled off its crazy landing on Mars in August 2012. It's journeyed over ancient streambeds and marveled at alien dunes. It's watched comets grace the Martian skies and the Sun set behind the planet's cratered horizon. It's even shot some rocks with lasers, taken some funky selfies, and dutifully sung itself "Happy Birthday" every year.
Now, the plucky rover has upped its game again by sending home gorgeous new color postcards of its recent trip through Murray Buttes, a dramatic geological formation on the foothills of Mount Sharp. Like the iconic buttes of Monument Valley, Arizona, the Murray region's steep, layered cliffs are both visually spectacular and scientifically useful, given that they are direct windows into the planet's past.
"Curiosity's science team has been just thrilled to go on this road trip through a bit of the American desert Southwest on Mars," said Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.
The images, taken on Thursday, demonstrate that Mars boasts landscapes as dramatic and breathtaking as our own planet. Hold on to your buttes.
This beautifully stratified section of the Murray formation pictured above represents the remnants of ancient dunes, sculpted by Martian windstorms, that have hardened into "cross-bedded" patterns of stacked sandstone.
Here's another angle, taken on the same day.
"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," Vasavada said.
Curiosity has since departed the Murray formation to continue its ascent up the slopes of Mount Sharp, which stands three miles tall. But thanks to these high-quality pictorial mementos, the weeks it has spent studying the region's towering cliffs and scattered rocks will be remembered as one of many exciting chapters in the rover's continuing adventures on Mars.
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