Spaceflight Insider

Curiosity bids farewell to Murray Buttes

This 360-degree vista was acquired on Aug. 5, 2016, by the Mastcam on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover as the rover neared features called "Murray Buttes" on lower Mount Sharp. The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover's arm is about 50 feet high and, near the top, about 200 feet wide. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This 360-degree vista was acquired on Aug. 5, 2016, by the Mastcam on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover as the rover neared features called “Murray Buttes” on lower Mount Sharp. The dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover’s arm is about 50 feet (15.2 meters) high and, near the top, about 200 feet (61 meters) wide. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recently began driving away from “Murray Buttes” located on lower Mount Sharp – but not before taking several images of the spectacular layered geological formations in the area. The images were taken with Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sept. 8. The rover team will assemble several large, color mosaics from the many images taken and this location and release them in the near future.

This close-up view from NASA's Curiosity rover, as it departs "Murray Buttes", shows finely layered rocks, deposited by winds long ago as migrating sand dunes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This close-up view from NASA’s Curiosity rover shows finely layered rocks, deposited by Martian winds long ago as migrating sand dunes. (Click to enlarge) Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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 Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in California.

Murray Buttes was informally named nearly three years ago to honor Caltech planetary scientist and former JPL director Bruce Murray (1931–2013).

The buttes and mesas that rise above the surface in this area are the eroded remnants of ancient sandstone that formed when wind deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp had formed.

“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 been driving through Murray Buttes for just over a month. As of last week, the rover had started to exit the buttes, driving up to the base of the final butte on its way out. It was at this location, named “Quela”, that Curiosity began its most recent drill campaign on Sept. 9. Once this drilling is complete, Curiosity will continue driving farther south and upward on Mount Sharp.

Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida on Nov. 26, 2011, atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket. The probe landed in Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after finding evidence on the surrounding plains that ancient Martian lakes once offered conditions that would have been favorable for microbial life.

As Curiosity makes its way up Mount Sharp, the rover is investigated how and when the Martian environment changed from being potentially favorable for life to the much drier and less favorable conditions that exist today.

NASA knows a good thing when it sees it and is planning on sending another Curiosity-class rover to the Red Planet in 2020. It is hoped that these robotic pathfinders will pave the way for human explorers to venture to Mars in the coming decades.

Curiosity viewed sloping buttes and layered outcrops as it exited the "Murray Buttes" region on lower Mount Sharp, Sept. 9, 2016. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSS

Curiosity viewed sloping buttes and layered outcrops as it exited the “Murray Buttes” region on lower Mount Sharp, Sept. 9, 2016. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSS

 

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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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