Much like the layers of soil on Earth, the layers of rock and soil on Mars provide clues to how the planet changed over the years. Curiosity’s first objective was to find and examine a once-habitable environment. The rover has already achieved that — finding evidence water was once on the planet inside the Gale Crater. Now, Curiosity is examining more recent layers of the planet, which is when the rover shot the 360 view of Murray Buttes.
Named after the scientist Bruce Murray, the buttes are made with rocks that are fairly resistant to wind erosion, according to NASA. That top layer helps protect the underlying layers from the planet’s harsh environment, giving Curiosity more data to study.
NASA says Curiosity is currently on an extended mission to study earlier layers of the planet, which brought it to the Murray Buttes and the lower Mount Sharp area. The rover’s goal is now to see how freshwater lake conditions evolved into the planet’s much less hospitable environment today. NASA theorizes that the water could have once been favorable for microbes.
The 360 photo was taken on the eve of Curiosity’s fourth year exploring Mars. The rover is tasked with several of NASA’s high-priority goals, including preparing for a human mission to the planet.
The Murray Buttes area is filled with mesas and the 360 shot also shows baked mudstone. While the image is missing segments, the 360 gives earthlings a glimpse at the red planet that’s not as different as we think — at least in photographs anyways.