From 150 million miles away, the Mars Curiosity rover continues to amaze us, but this time with total fascination as it sends the first high-resolution photos from the Red Planet. This mission also transmitted the first human voice from another planet.
“This is a spectacular feature that we’re seeing very early,” said John Grotzinger, a project scientist with the California Institute of Technology. “We can sense that there is a big change on Mount Sharp.”
Mount Sharp is a three-mile-high mountain that rises from the floor of Gale Crater. The image that was beamed to Earth is amazing, which shows unique characteristics and details. It’s actually something you would see if you were standing on the Red Planet.
Scientists estimate it will be a year before the rover reaches the layers of interest at the foot of the mountain, 6.2 miles from the landing site.
From earlier orbital imagery, the layers appear to contain clays and other hydrated minerals that form in the presence of water, Nasa has said.
Previous missions to Mars have uncovered strong evidence for vast amounts of water flowing over its surface in the past. Curiosity was dispatched to hunt for organic materials considered necessary for life to evolve.
In this high resolution photo, the layers above where scientists expect to find hydrated minerals show sharp tilts, offering a strong hint of dramatic changes in Gale Crater, which is located in the planet’s southern hemisphere near its equator.
The higher layers are steeply slanted relative to the layers of underlying rock, the reverse of similar features found in the Grand Canyon.
“The layers are tilted in the Grand Canyon due to plate tectonics, so it’s typical to see older layers be more deformed and more rotated than the ones above them,” Grotzinger said. “In this case you have flat-line layers on Mars overlaid by tilted layers. The science team, of course, is deliberating over what this means.