This breathtaking view of Martian canyons is not just a stunning landscape, but also a crucial lookout for potential hazards. NASA’s Curiosity rover is exploring the Gediz Vallis Ridge in Mars’ southern hemisphere, keeping a vigilant eye out for dust devils that could pose a threat.
Fascination Turret: A Mouth-Watering Vantage Point
Planetary geologist Sharon Wilson Purdy describes the location as a “mouth-watering vantage point” for documenting a section of the ridge known as Fascination Turret. The rover aims to study the processes that deposited sediment in this ridge, shedding light on its formation and erosion.
Curiosity’s Mission: Searching for Signs of Life
Curiosity is exploring an environment that could have once supported tiny microorganisms, if any ever existed on Mars. The mountain, Mount Sharp, is believed to have been adorned with streams billions of years ago. Gediz Vallis is a region of particular interest for scientists searching for evidence of a wetter, warmer, and more Earth-like past on Mars.
Ancient Landslides and Martian Winds
Scientists believe that ancient, fast-moving landslides swept mud and boulders down the mountainside. Over time, brutal Martian winds battered and eroded the debris, forming the ridge. Geologist William Dietrich describes these events as unimaginable, with huge rocks being ripped out of the mountain and spread out below.
Dust Devils: A Hazard on Mars
Scientists are aware of the hazards posed by dust devils on Mars. These whirlwinds form similarly to those on Earth, despite the thinner atmosphere. They can leave tracks in the form of straight lines, curves, and curlicues, revealing layers of dark volcanic rocks beneath the light dust coating.
Preparing for Potential Dust Storms
Curiosity’s team is currently preparing for potential global dust storms, which typically occur between now and September. These events can be separated by many years, but the last sky-darkening global Martian dust storm in 2018 ended the mission of the Opportunity Rover.