Curiosity takes first detailed, color images

Curiosity takes first detailed, color images

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Reuters
Curiosity takes first detailed, color images

This image shows the base of Mars’ Mount Sharp, which is the rover Curiosity’s eventual destination. It is a portion of a larger image taken by the rover. REUTERS photo

NASA on Aug. 27 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 five kilometer-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.

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.

Mount Sharp is believed to be the remains of sediment that once completely filled the 154-kilometer-wide basin. “This is a spectacular feature that we’re seeing very early,” project scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology, told reporters on Aug. 27. “We can sense that there is a big change on Mount Sharp.”

The higher layers are steeply slanted relative to the layers of underlying rock, the reverse of similar features found in Earth’s Grand Canyon.