NASA's Curiosity rover has been driving around on Mars gathering all sorts of data since August 2012, and this remarkable little robot shows no signs of wearing down.
This new panoramic image from Curiosity -- just released Friday afternoon -- shows petrified sand dunes. Some of the dark sandstone in this area being explored shows texture and inclined bedding structures characteristic of deposits that formed as sand dunes that were then cemented into rock.
This sandstone outcrop -- part of a geological layer that Curiosity's science team calls the Stimson unit -- has a large scale structure called crossbedding that the team has interpreted as deposits of sand dunes formed by wind. Similar-looking petrified sand dunes are common in the U.S. Southwest. The crossbedding's geometry and orientation give information about the directions of the winds that produced these dunes.
The Stimson unit sits above a layer of mudstone that was deposited in a lake environment. Curiosity has been examining successively higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp, starting with the mudstone at the mountain's base, for evidence about changes in the area's ancient environment.
Curiosity has driven about 103 yards in the two weeks since Aug. 27, when the photos that created this panorama were taken. Outcrops of the Stimson unit sandstone are still accessible, and researchers plan to use the rover to collect and analyze a drilled sample of Stimson unit sandstone sometime this month.
I think you'll agree with me that, in addition to the scientific value, this is a spectacular new view of Mars, and shows how truly varied the Red Planet's terrain is in spots.