Washington | NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has captured a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of features called ‘Murray Buttes’, combining more than 130 images taken on the fourth anniversary of probe’s landing on the red planet.
The image was acquired by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on as the rover neared on lower Mount Sharp on Mars, during the afternoon of the mission’s 1,421st Martian day.
The visual drama of Murray Buttes along Curiosity’s planned route up lower Mount Sharp was anticipated when the site was informally named nearly three years ago, NASA said.
A butte is an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top. Mesa is an elevated area that has a top that is wider than its height, while a butte has a top that is narrower than its height.
The buttes and mesas of Murray Buttes are capped by material that is relatively resistant to erosion, just as is the case with many similarly shaped buttes and mesas on Earth.
This helps preserve these monumental remnants of a layer that formerly more fully covered the underlying layer that the rover is now driving on.
In the image a dark, flat-topped mesa is seen towards the left, which is about 90 meters from the rover’s position. It stands about about 15 meters high.
A horizontal ledge near the top of the mesa is about 60 metres across. An upper portion of Mount Sharp appears on the distant horizon to the left of this mesa in the image.
The relatively flat foreground is part of a geological layer called the Murray formation, which formed from lakebed mud deposits.
The buttes and mesas rising above this surface are eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that originated when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed.
Curiosity closely examined that layer – known as the Stimson formation – during the first half of 2016 while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation.
The scene is presented with a colour adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.
Early in its mission on Mars, Curiosity accomplished its main goal when it found and examined an ancient habitable environment.
In an extended mission, the rover is examining successively younger layers as it climbs the lower part of Mount Sharp.
A key goal is to learn how freshwater lake conditions, which would have been favourable for microbes billions of years ago if Mars has ever had life, evolved into harsher, arid conditions much less suited to supporting life. The mission is also monitoring the modern environment of Mars.
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