Curiosity rover, clueless about the end of the world, is spending this week tooling around a shallow depression called Yellowknife Bay looking for a good rock to drill. The images it’s been returning show a striking new landscape of upturned layers of rock reminiscent of layered shales here on Earth. Some of them lie at angles to one another – what geologists call cross-bedding – that indicate a change in the rate or direction of flow of whatever it was that deposited the beds. In this case it’s likely water but could also be wind.
The rover used its ChemCam instrument to determine the rocks’ composition, but no word yet on what it is. One additional drive is planned this week before the rover team gets holiday break.
I found more pictures of the area at Curiosity’ raw image site which now has 31,570 images on file from the mission. Some of the photos take you in close for a down and dirty look at the rocks. Below you’ll find a sampling including a 3-D stereo photo. Additional Mars stereo images can be found HERE.
While northern hemisphere sky watchers will have to wait until March to get a good look at Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS), folks down under are keeping an eye on it for us. The comet has recently reappeared in the dawn sky low in the eastern sky in the constellation Scorpius the scorpion for observers in the southern hemisphere. At the moment, it’s still a little fuzzball around magnitude 9.5-10.
Rob Kaufman of Bright, Victoria, Australia shared a photo of the comet taken on Dec. 18. If L4 PanSTARRS follows brightness predictions, it could reach -1 magnitude or nearly as bright as the star Sirius low in the evening sky in mid-March. I can’t think of a finer way to introduce the new season.