New images have been sent over by NASA’s rover Curiosity, to show that sandstones on Mars were once sand dunes that were petrified through the course of time, with further samples pending. It’s one of the many mysteries of the Red Planet how the environment changed and what lied beneath what is now available for us to see.
On August 27th, Curiosity compiled images into a panorama of Mars’ bumpy surface that revealed the rough terrain of the distant planet, not too dissimilar to what we can find on our very own Earth. In fact, similar regions can be found in the Southwest in the United States, places often ventured through by hitchhikers.
However, it was not quite so simple for the rover. Curiosity has been undergoing its mission on Mars since August 2012, finally reaching the base of Mount Sharp last year to capture images and conduct close investigation after gathering all it could from its landing sight.
Recently, it investigated an area of the mountain that scientists called the Stimson Unit, a region that covers a layer of mudstone that was once possibly deposited in a lake environment on the Red Planet. The sandstone structure, however, showed certain characteristics that made the investigating team suggest that there was once a sand dune in their stead.
The layer showed crossbedding on a larger scale, a trait that was interpreted as deposits of sand dunes that had turned into rock over the years. Curiosity has roamed for around 103 yards across the Stimson Unit, and has gathered samples that will be further analyzed by scientists to better understand the change of environment the planet has gone through.
It could provide NASA with vital information about its surroundings, as any piece of data is crucial before a manned mission will be sent out to the Red Planet. Any direction of the wind or formation in the rock could hide some significant detail that would help astronauts better prepare for their historical venture.
The dark stones are now under investigation where the sand dunes were eventually cemented into rock in Mars’ ancient environment. The crossbedding was likely formed by the wind, but a drilled sample has been collected by the rover which will provide the space agency with important new information about the planet’s structure.
Any piece of knowledge could be valuable, and with the mystery still shrouding Mars, all of it is vital to assure the well being of future astronauts and their safe return to our planet after their unique excursion to the Red Planet.
Image source: geology.com