These new pictures of Mars’ ancient sandstone cliffs are incredible

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover has been exploring the Martian surface for just over four years now, and it’s just beamed back some of its most spectacular pictures to date. The new images come from the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp, and on first glance they look a lot like something you’d find here on Earth.

The images show what’s left of ancient sandstone, formed when winds build up layers of sand after the formation of Mount Sharp. 

As with sandstone on Earth, the Martian rocks appear to show strata – or layers of sediment – but the pictures also show something called “cross-bedding.” And according to NASA, it’s these features that explain how the sandstone was originally formed.

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“Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

So what was Curiosity doing there?

These pictures actually come from the end of Curiosity’s trip in the Murray Buttes, and follow its investigation into the viability of life in Mars’ ancient lakes. We’ve put together some of Curiosity’s best pictures of the region into a gallery, and NASA says it will soon be releasing several large colour mosaics of its other pictures.[gallery:0]

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