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NASA: Curiosity Reveals Layered Rock Formations on Mars; Humans May Contaminate Martian Waters?

Sep 10, 2016 07:15 AM EDT

Just like Earth, Mars is also a thing of beauty, especially when it comes to rock formations. Recent images from NASA's Mars Curiosity rover reveal stunning layered rock formations in the "Murray Buttes" region of the red planet.

Rock Formations that Rival US National Parks

According to a press release from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Curiosity took the photos using its Mast Camera on Sept. 8. The said rock formations in the Murray Buttes are remnants of eroded ancient sandstones from the formation of lower Mount Sharp.

Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said that Curiosity's science team is "thrilled" about the discovery. The team is planning to assemble the images taken by the rover in the southwest desert region of Mars.

This is the last stop in Curiosity rover's road trip in the Murray Buttes. The rover will continue its discovery to the south of the Red planet, exploring the higher areas of Mount Sharp.

"Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today," Vasavada said.

Humans Polluting Martian Waters?

Despite the stunning discovery on Mars, NASA has expressed its concern of space explorations polluting the planet's water resources. Smithsonian Mag notes that the volume of interplanetary visitors going to Mars might contaminate the planet's water with microbes from Earth.

Catharine Conley from NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection explains that contaminating Mars' waters could lead to big problems because we don't know what the effects would be to Martian life. The problem is especially high because Mars is a likely candidate to support life, unlike other extraterrestrial environments such as meteors where contamination might not be a problem.

To avoid Mars contamination, planetary protection officers urge more research about Mars and its environment before sending humans to the red planet.

“There’s still fundamental data that we would need before we start to evaluate whether or not it would be acceptable at any risk level to introduce an organism into that environment,” says NASA planetary protection engineer James Bernardini. “It’s about being good stewards of the world and the universe that we live in.”

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