A majestic place…

As more and more images taken by Curiosity are released by the team, it’s becoming apparent that the rover has landed in a truly majestic place. A place of hills and mountains, buttes and mesas, great dunes of dark, windblown, ancient dust, ringed by Mordor-like peaks with a mountain reaching up from its heart. Gale Crater is, make no mistake about it, like nowhere ever seen on Mars before. Within a week or so Curiosity should be taking her first drive, edging slowly into this magnificent landscape, and then we will begin a truly epic journey of scientific discovery. Rocks will be zapped with lasers and studied; dust and dirt will be scooped up off the surface, taken into the rover and analysed by its incredible instruments. It’s going to be Christmas for geologists – professional and armchair. But, let’s be honest, most of us are just really, really looking forward to seeing the spectacular pictures Curiosity will send back as she makes her way to, through and past that moat of dark dust dunes at the foot of Mt Sharp, and then starts her ascent. Oh, the sights we’re going to see!

But that’s in the future. We’ll have to be patient.

But now, right now, we are getting our first really good look at the landforms and landscape features at the foot of Mt Sharp – and they’re fascinating. Here’s a very wide panoramic mosaic I’ve made, you’ll need to click on it to enlarge it and see it properly.

If you click on that you’ll see just a bewildering variety of features in the foothills of Mt Sharp, just over the dark dust moat. It’s there where Curiosity (I nearly typed Oppy then out of habit!) will be driving, wending her way slowly up the slopes towards the layered material higher up. Once we’re over there the landscape will look like something out of a science fiction film, I think. But as I said, that’s in the future. For now let’s take a closer look at the thinsg we can see in that image, by turning it into a black and white image with more contrast…

I love black and white images like that, they look so dramatic don’t you think? But by taking away all the soft, martian dusty blurriness we can see details on those distant slopes more clearly, and those mesas and buttes really jusmp out much more clearly. One thing you can see straight away is how different the upper part of those slopes looks – past the mesas and buttes and ledges it looks a lot smoother, less “knobbly” shall we say. Look at this crop and you’ll see what I mean…

See? The terrain up there is markedly different isn’t it? And it looks streaked, like the darker, “knobbly” ground beneath it, but the streaks run at an angle rather than parallel to the horizon. It’s definitely different. (Its’ official name is “The Light Toned Unit”, by the way)

That’s because when we look at that we’re looking at this part of Mt Sharp…

This is a lot easier to see on Google Mars…

Here’s what the view would be like if you could magically transport yourself halfway up Mt Sharp, looking down on Curiosity’s landing site (represented by the little coloured flag down on the crater floor, but you won’t have a hope of seeing that unles you click on the image and enlarge it)…

By stretching the landscape vertically we can really see the different layers over there on the lower parts of Mt Sharp…

And in colour the different landforms “over there” *really* stand out…

As beautiful as that looks to us, I’m sure Curiosity’s drivers are looking at that and wondering how they’re going to work their way through it..! 🙂

So, the landscape is opening up for us, and we’re now just a couple of days away from seeing Mt Sharp *properly*. Then we’ll really know Gale Crater.


One thought on “A majestic place…

  1. Chris Martin says:

    For “Oppy” please read “Curiosity”…;)

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