A butte on Mars

A butte on Mars
Click for full photograph.

Cool image time! Because the Martian geology inside the enclosed stone valley beyond Maria Gordon notch is so complex and exposed, the Curiosity science team is spending a lot of time there. As noted in their January 7th update:

[W]e are marvelling at the landscape in front of us, which is very diverse, both in the rover workspace and in the walls around us. It’s a feast for our stratigraphers (those who research the succession in which rocks were deposited and deduce the geologic history of the area from this). We are all looking forward to the story they will piece together when they’ve had a bit of time to think!

The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken by the rover’s high resolution camera on December 18th, soon after it entered this stone valley and was part of scan covering both this butte as well as a nearby cliff. I had previously featured a close-up of the top of this butte and its incredible overhang on December 20, 2021. This image however shows the whole butte, which I estimate to be about 30 to 40 feet high is about 10 feet high.

Not only does the butte illustrate well the alien nature of this stark and barren Martian terrain, so does all the terrain surrounding it. The surface everywhere is nothing but pavement stones of all sizes. Once again, there is no life, something you practically never see on Earth.

Curiosity: Through the notch and looking back

Looking back at the entrance to Gordon Notch
Click for full image.

The Mars rover Curiosity has now climbed up into Maria Gordon Notch. The image to the right, reduced to post here, was taken by the rover’s left navigation camera and looks back at the entrance to the notch, with the floor and rim of Gale Crater beyond. The crater floor is about 1,700 feet below and the rim is about 30 miles away.

The red dotted line indicates the path Curiosity took after entering the notch, traveling about 80 feet to the southeast. The rover will continue south inside the notch for another 800 feet or so and then turn west, climbing out of the notch and up onto the Greenheugh Pediment and continuing west until it gets to the base of Gediz Vallis Ridge, a ridge that had been in prominent view about a year ago when the rover was north of it but lower down the mountain. (See the panorama in this February 2021 post.)

Below is another picture from a day earlier, this time taken by the rover’s high resolution mast camera. I think it looks up at the top of the western cliff, but now looks at that cliff after having gone past it slightly.
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Curiosity takes a close look at a Martian cliff

A cliff of Mars
Click for full resolution. Original images here and here.

Curiosity has now moved up and into Maria Gordon Notch, a gap in the mountains of Gale Crater that is about forty feet wide, with a 40-foot-high cliff on its western side and a 30 to 60 foot cliff on its eastern side.

The mosaic above, created from two navigation camera images, looks up at the top half of that western cliff. Note the many many layers, each one of which records some climate or volcanic event in Mars’ geological history. The Mars we see today took a long time and many events to become what it is. Such layers however have not been seen everywhere by Curiosity. Compare for example this layered cliff with the massive outcrop dubbed Siccar Point and looked at closely by the rover in October. In that outcrop the layers were either non-existent, or merged together during some subsequent geological process.

Note also the pond of sand/dust at the center-bottom, nestled in a hollow but sitting almost vertical. That the dust can maintain itself at such an angle illustrates Mars’ lighter gravity, about 39% of Earth’s, which in turn allows for a much steeper angle of repose. That lighter gravity also allows for some sections of rock to stick out more precariously than possible on Earth.

As Curiosity moves through the notch in the next few days, more such cool pictures will become available, and I shall post them.