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Images from Curiosity have spotted some unexpected geology in Gale Crater.
A mosaic of high-definition images of Mount Sharp, the central peak dominating the landing site at Gale Crater, reveals tilted strata never before seen on Mars. The strata dip downwards at an angle close to that of the slope of the foothills of the 18,000-ft. tall mountain within which they are formed.
“The cool thing is the cameras have discovered something we were unaware of,” says mission chief scientist John Grotzinger. “This thing jumped out at us as being very different to what we expected,” he adds. Lying in the low-lying foothills beyond the dune field between the rover and the base of Mount Sharp, the inclined layers are a “spectacular feature” that could not be seen from orbit.
I think there are two reasons these tilted layers are puzzling scientists.
First, Mt. Sharp is the central peak of a crater, meaning that it formed practically instantly as a result of an impact. The layers however suggest a long geological process, laid down over eons. How then do you get slowly formed layers in an instantly formed crater peak?
Second, the incline suggests that some later geological event, either slow or fast, caused the layers to tilt after they were in place. It appears, however, that the scientists had not identified any evidence of such a geological event in their prior studies of Gale Crater. What was it?
All told, this surprising new data only proves one thing above all, that no one should ever be surprised by new data that comes down from space. The universe is a wonderful place, and it will always show us unexpected things, if we go and look.