Mars Curiosity High Resolution Photos, NASA on Monday showed off the first high-resolution, color portrait images taken by the Mars rover Curiosity, detailing a mound of layered rock where scientists plan to focus their search for the chemical ingredients of life on the Red Planet.
The stunning images reveal distinct tiers near the base of the 3-mile- (5-km-)tall mountain that rises from the floor of the vast, ancient impact basin known as Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed on Aug. 6 to begin its two-year mission.
Scientists estimate it will be a year before the six-wheeled, nuclear-powered rover, about the size of a small car, physically reaches the layers of interest at the foot of the mountain, 6.2 miles (10 km) away from the landing site.
From earlier orbital imagery, the layers appear to contain clays and other hydrated minerals that form in the presence of water.
While previous missions to Mars have uncovered strong evidence for vast amounts of water flowing over its surface in the past, Curiosity was dispatched to hunt for organic materials and other chemistry considered necessary for microbial life to evolve.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity project, NASA’s first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes to Mars, is the first to bring all the tools of a state-of-the-art geochemistry laboratory to the surface of a distant planet.
But the latest images from Curiosity, taken at a distance from its primary target of exploration, already have given scientists a new view of the formation’s structure.
The layers above where scientists expect to find hydrated minerals show sharp tilts, offering a strong hint of dramatic changes in Gale Crater, located in the planet’s southern hemisphere near its equator.