At first glance it may seem that NASA's Curiosity rover has stumbled upon a rippling lake or sea at the base of Sharp Mountain. But with a closer look at the new images taken by the camera of the robot, it becomes obvious that the “waves” clearly visible in this Martian landscape are actually made of sand and dust.
Last month, the six-wheeled mars rover finally reached the foot of Mount Sharp — the final point of its route. The rover journey, which began with a landing on the planet in August 2012, lasted 778 sol (Martian days).
The 3, 5 mile mountain in the center of Gale Crater is a very interesting object for scientific study. It is formed by layers of stony rocks, which, like a book, can tell about the geological history of the planet and about the possibly habitable, ancient environment of the planet.
To date, the rover is working in the Parampa Hills (“Pahrump Hills”) - elevations at the foot of the mountainous bedrock surface - after having conducted four drilling in an area called “Confidence Hills”.
The stone powder obtained while drilling, which seems to be softer in consistency than previous rock samples, was placed in a chemical laboratory aboard Curiosity to study the rock that makes up the base of Sharpe Mountain. As a result of the new observation results (see the full resolution image here), it became obvious that it was windy on Mars.
Many elements of the surface of Mars are eolian by all signs, that is, they are formed under the influence of the winds, including vast sandy fields and small hills exposed to wind erosion, called table highlands.
Many such signs can only be seen from orbit, but Curiosity makes it possible to view small-scale details from the surface, such as these sandy waves, like swell at sea.
As Curiosity moves toward the top of Mount Sharpe over the coming months and - possibly - over the years, we will find much more stunning examples of how diverse the geology of Mars is, and the elegant details of the surface formed by the winds. Their research will help to better understand the process of evolution on the Red Planet, which has brought it to the state that we are seeing today.