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article imageNASA rover to probe Mars' mysterious pink cliffs

By Stephen Morgan     Nov 22, 2014 in Science
The search for life on Mars could be taken a step further when Curiosity's Rover next explores the planet's mysterious "pink cliffs."
The so-called "pink cliffs" are an unusual feature of the Martian landscape, which NASA scientists know little about. They were first discovered by chance last month during one of Rover's walkabouts and the craft has since made a second visit a few days ago.
A third visit to the mountain is now planned and according to the Telegraph, NASA is "considering whether to drill into the rocks to find samples which would be analysed by equipment on the Rover itself."
Images captured by Curiosity suggest that the cliffs are made of sediment which have largely withstood erosion, unlike surrounding geological formations. Scientists are not quite sure why this is and they are hoping the rover can give them some answers.
The Daily Mail quotes NASA's Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist, Ashwin Vasavada who said,
"We have selected targets that we think give us the best chance of answering questions about how the sediments were deposited -- in standing water? flowing water? sand blowing in the wind? -- and about the composition during deposition and later changes."
NASA scientists hope that investigating the cliffs will give them more detailed knowledge about the history of the planet and possibly help solve the riddle of whether life has ever existed on Mars and if it still does.
"The variations we've seen so far tell us that the environment was changing over time, both as the sediments were laid down and also after they hardened into bedrock," said Vasavada.
Even though the "cliffs" are just a small ledge, only 3ft (one metre) in length near the base of the "Pahrump Hills" on Mt Sharp, scientists believe it could be rich in information. In a sense it is like an open wound, which will make "geological surgery" far easier. Indeed, segmentation and mineral veins are visible to the naked eye.
Mosaic of sediment in pink cliffs of Mars
Mosaic of sediment in pink cliffs of Mars
RT quotes Vasavada, as saying, "Some parts [were] finely layered and fine-grained, others more blocky with erosion-resistant ledges."
“There’s a lot to study here.” he added.
Curiosity has already made some ground-breaking studies into Mars' geological formations, such as its exploration of a 3 billion year old lake bed. That revealed evidence that the planet contained the chemical energy and basic ingredients of life in the past, though it is not conclusive proof that life did exist..
The current investigation into the "pink cliffs" could reveal a great deal more about the entire history of the planet and provide us with important, new information in our search for extraterrestrial life.
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