NASA Mars Rover Investigates Wild ‘Gator-Back Terrain’
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
We’ve gone from a rock on Mars that looks like a fish to rocks on Mars that look like alligators. Specifically, the rugged, pebbly backs of alligators. NASA’s Curiosity rover is checking out a funky stretch of landscape on the red planet and the images are delightful.
Curiosity is cruising around the Gale Crater and climbing up Mount Sharp, the crater’s central peak. The rover has been investigating a transitional area with formations the team is describing as “gator-back terrain.”
The washboardlike landscape was spotted in orbital images, but the team is finally getting a close-up look. “Now that we’re here it’s quite surprising to see how rugged it is, and the informal description of this ‘gator-back terrain’ seems very fitting!” wrote planetary geologist Lauren Edgar of the US Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center in a mission update on Monday.
Curiosity acts like a rolling laboratory and is using its skills to help the science team back on Earth understand more about the geology of the blocky terrain and how erosion has affected it.
Mars seems like a dry and static place, but wind, sand and dust work to shape the landscape. The rover is currently on top of an area called the Greenheugh pediment. It’s been seeing beautifully eroded rocks all over the place, and recently spotted a tiny sedimentary feature that looked like a flower.
The fantastical shapes of Mars rocks have led to plenty of comparisons to familiar Earth objects, from a butt to a variety of faces. The good news for Curiosity is that it doesn’t need to take any evasive action due to an alligator on Mars. It’s just another fun example of how the red planet reminds us of our own.