This is a key milestone for the Curiosity mission because the “Murray Buttes” are the entry way along Curiosity’s planned route up lower Mount Sharp.
Ascending and diligently exploring the sedimentary lower layers of Mount Sharp, which towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky, is the primary destination and goal of the rovers long term scientific expedition on the Red Planet.
The area features eroded mesas and buttes that are reminiscent of the U.S. Southwest.
So the team directed the rover to capture a 360-degree color panorama using the robots mast mounted Mastcam camera earlier this month on Aug. 5.
The full panorama shown above combines more than 130 images taken by Curiosity on Aug. 5, 2016, during the afternoon of Sol 1421 by the Mastcam’s left-eye camera.
In particular note the dark, flat-topped mesa seen to the left of the rover’s arm. It stands about 50 feet (about 15 meters) high and, near the top, about 200 feet (about 60 meters) wide.
Coincidentally, Aug. 5 also marks the fourth anniversary of the six wheeled rovers landing on the Red Planet via the unprecedented Sky Crane maneuver.
You can explore this spectacular Mars panorama in great detail via this specially produced 360-degree panorama from JPL. Simply move the magnificent view back and forth and up and down and all around with your mouse or mobile device.
Video Caption: This 360-degree panorama 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 (about 15 meters) high and, near the top, about 200 feet (about 60 meters) wide.
“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,” say rover scientists.
“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.”
Three years ago, the team informally named the site 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.
As of today, Sol 1447, August 31, 2016, Curiosity has driven over 7.9 miles (12.7 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing, and taken over 348,500 amazing images.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.