Three billion years ago, during one of the last wet periods on Mars, powerful debris flows carried soil and rocks down the side of a massive mountain. The debris was then eroded by the wind into a fan that spread towards a high ridge, preserving the intriguing story of the Red Planet’s watery past.
Now, after three attempts, NASA’s Curiosity rover has reached the ridge and captured the formation in a 360-degree panoramic mosaic. Previous raids were disrupted by sharp rocks and extremely steep slopes. After one of the most challenging climbs the mission has ever encountered, Curiosity reached a position on August 14 where it could examine the long-sought ridge with its 2-meter robotic arm.
“After three years, we finally found a place on Mars where Mars allowed Curiosity to reach a steep hill safely,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “It’s exciting to be able to reach rocks carried from higher elevations on Mount Sharp that we could never visit with Curiosity.”
Since 2014, the traveler has climbed 3 miles (5 kilometers) to the base of Mount Sharp, discovering traces of ancient lakes and streams along the way. Different layers of the mountain represent different periods in Martian history. As curiosity escalates, scientists will learn more about how the landscape changes over time. Gediz Wallis Ridge was one of the last features to form on the mountain, making it one of the youngest geological time capsules Curiosity will see.
a rare sight
The rover spent 11 days on the ridge, intensively photographing and studying the composition of dark rocks that clearly came from somewhere on the mountain. Debris flows that helped form the Geddies Wallis Range carried these boulders, some the size of cars, down from the higher layers of Mount Sharp. These rocks provide a glimpse of rare materials that Curiosity can study from the mountaintop.
The rover’s arrival at the ridge also allowed scientists to take a closer look at the erosion debris of a geological feature known as a debris flow fan, where debris flowing down the hillside spreads out in a fan shape. Debris flow fans are common on both Mars and Earth, but scientists are still learning how they form.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to witness these events,” said geologist William Dietrich, a member of the mission team at the University of California at Berkeley who led Curiosity’s study of the ridge. “Large stones broke away from the mountain above, rushed downward and spread downwards like a fan. The results of this campaign will push us to better explain such phenomena not only on Mars, but also on Earth, where they pose natural hazards.”
On August 19, the rover’s Mastcam captured 136 images of the scene at Gediz Vallis Ridge, which when combined into a mosaic provided a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. This panorama shows Curiosity’s path across the mountainside, including Marker Bend Valley, where evidence of an ancient lake was discovered.
While scientists are still examining images and data from the Gediz Wallis Ridge, Curiosity is already moving on to its next mission: finding a path to a channel on the ridge so scientists can learn more about how and where water once flowed from Keskin Mountain. Source
Source: Port Altele
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