NASA just presented some awesome new images, taken by the 100-millimeter Mast Camera on Aug. 23, 2012. They show the base of Mount Sharp, Curiosity’s eventual science destination. It will take her about one year to get there.
Here’s an annotated zoom-in showing this place (click for larger version):
Scientists are particularly interested in driving around in these valleys to explore the geological history of Mars.
Here’s another annotated image showing an interesting feature of this region, have a look at the discontinuity in the strata above and below the line of white dots:
Image source: NASA
It’s not clear yet which process caused this stratification. MSL project scientist John Grotzinger said at the NASA news briefing on Aug. 27:
The striking thing is that everything above the line of white dots is steeply inclined with respect to everything that’s below it. These are features that Geologist call clinoforms. They indicate that in the accretion of the strata, they built out progressively from left to right in a relative sense.
This is a spectacular feature that we’re seeing very early on, that you only had the slightest hint from orbit. You really need to be down on the ground and looking at the cross section.
This kind of relationship is something that can help us understand the origin of the strata, that clearly are the result of the exhumation of the larger sequence of strata that created Mount Sharp.
Reddit user peterabbit456 has another possible explanation:
Tilted layers over flat layers on Mars means one thing: top layer is an alluvial fan, deposited by successive floods. I’ve seen this a dozen times in the Mojave desert. The outwash from canyons frequently makes this sort of stratification. Usually such cross-bedded strata last for less than 1000 years on Earth, but Mars does not have the kinds of weather that wash it away.
JPL scientists also see other possibilities: volcanoes, wave action at the shore of a sea or a river could potentially form terrain like this.