The strange scattered rocks of Gediz Vallis on Mars

The strange rocks of Gediz Vallis
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, reduced to post here, was taken on August 20, 2022 by Curiosity’s high resolution camera. It shows some of the scattered and very delicate rocks that it is finding on the floor of Gediz Vallis, the valley the rover had been striving for since landing more than a decade ago and finally entered in mid-August.

Because of Mars weak gravity, about 39% of Earth’s, and very thin atmosphere, about 1% of Earth’s, it is possible for surface rocks to erode into such delicate shapes. The shapes appear to be further encouraged by the many layers that exist in Mars, with each layer having different characteristics. In the case of the hanging flakes to the right, these layers were more resistant to erosion and thus remains intact while material above and below was slowly blown away.

A distant cliff and a rocky path forward

Mosaic of Gediz Vallis
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Close-up of distant cliff face
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Two cool images arrived today from Curiosity, as it is about to enter the Martian canyon of Gediz Vallis. The mosaic above, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was assembled from photos taken by the rover’s right navigation camera on August 15, 2022. The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken the same day by the rover’s Chemistry camera, normally designed to take very close-up pictures of nearby features. In this case the science team aimed it at a distant cliff face, marked by the arrow in the panorama above, to get a preview of some of the many layers in that mesa.

And has become quite expected from Mars, the number and types and variety of layers is astonishing. The layer that forms the flat bright area at the center of this image is what scientists have dubbed “the marker layer”, since they have found it at similar elevations in many places on the flanks of Mount Sharp. (See the annotated overview map from a post last week.)

Curiosity’s planned route is to head to the right of this mesa, circling around it to get into the upper reaches of Gediz Vallis. First however engineers are going to have to figure out how to get the rover past the somewhat large scattered rocks on the ground directly ahead, without further damaging Curiosity’s already tattered wheels. At first glance there does not appear to be any clear path.

The Mountains of Mars

The mountains of Mars
Click for full resolution. The highest mountain on the right is about 450 feet high.

Even as the rover Perseverance is beginning its first science campaign on the floor of Jezero Crater, the rover Curiosity about 3,000 miles to the east has begun its climb into the mountains of Mars that surround the central peak of Gale Crater, Mount Sharp.

The mosaic above, made from two images taken by the rover’s right navigation camera (here and here), shows what Curiosity sees ahead. Since my last update on June 4th describing Curiosity’s future travels, the rover’s science team has pushed forward directly uphill towards the entrance to the canyon Gediz Vallis, visible as the gap between the mountains to the right and left in the above mosaic.

The overview map below shows the rover’s approximate present position, with the yellow lines indicating what the above photo is looking at.
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The big cliffs of Gediz Vallis on Mars

The Big Cliffs of Mt Sharp
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Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on May 21, 2021 by Curiosity’s chemistry camera (ChemCam), normally designed to look at high resolution close-up imagery of nearby objects.

However, it can also be used as what the science team call “a long distance spyglass.” The image to the right is an example, looking at what I think are the distant but steadily approaching big cliffs on the western wall of the canyon Gediz Vallis. Make sure you look close at the shadowed cliff-face, probably several hundred feet high. It is filled with huge rock faces reminiscent of the most stark rock cliffs on the mountains of Earth.

The two images below provide the context, which makes the image even more quite breath-taking.
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