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Full-Circle Vista from NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Shows Murray Buttes

Rover's Panorama of Entrance to 'Murray Buttes' on Mars

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Rover’s Panorama of Entrance to ‘Murray Buttes’ on Mars
This 360-degree panorama was acquired by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover as the rover neared features called “Murray Buttes” on lower Mount Sharp.

The view combines more than 130 images taken on Aug. 5, 2016, during the afternoon of the mission’s 1,421st sol, or Martian day, by Mastcam’s left-eye camera. This date also was the fourth anniversary of Curiosity’s landing.

The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of Curiosity’s robotic arm is about 300 feet (about 90 meters) from the rover’s position. It stands about 50 feet (about 15 meters) high. The horizontal ledge near the top of the mesa is about 200 feet (about 60 meters) across. An upper portion of Mount Sharp appears on the distant horizon to the left of this mesa.

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 — the Stimson formation — during the first half of 2016 while crossing a feature called “Naukluft Plateau” between two exposures of the Murray formation.

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. The informal naming honors Bruce Murray (1931-2013), a Caltech planetary scientist and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing, to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.

The rover’s location when its Mastcam acquired the component images of this scene was the site it reached in its Sol 1417 drive. (See map at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7963.)

Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, built and operates Mastcam. JPL, a division of Caltech, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

Full-Circle Vista from NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Shows ‘Murray Buttes’

Eroded mesas and buttes reminiscent of the U.S. Southwest shape part of the horizon in the latest 360-degree color panorama from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.

The rover used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to capture dozens of component images of this scene on Aug. 5, 2016, four years after Curiosity’s landing inside Gale Crater.

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 to honor Caltech planetary scientist Bruce Murray (1931-2013), a former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. JPL manages the Curiosity mission for NASA.

The buttes and mesas are capped with rock that is relatively resistant to wind erosion. This helps preserve these monumental remnants of a layer that formerly more fully covered the underlying layer that the rover is now driving on.

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 favorable 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.

These findings have been addressing high-priority goals for planetary science and further aid NASA’s preparations for a human mission to the Red Planet.

source : NASA – Jet Propulsion Laboratory – California Institute of Technology

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