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NASA Curiosity rover takes closer look at 'strange trough' on Mars

The Balby Trough is full of dark sand and stands out from the martian landscape.

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The Balby Trough, a curious landscape feature on Mars.

The Balby Trough, a curious landscape feature on Mars. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Put the words "strange" and "Mars" together and you have my attention. NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is living up to its name by checking out an unusual formation located in an area called Western Butte in the Gale Crater.

"In the images from orbit, it looks like someone drew a thick straight line with a dark felt marker on the southeastern side of the butte," Curiosity team member Melissa Rice, a planetary geologist at Western Washington University, wrote in a mission update this week titled A Strange Trough on Western Butte.

This Curiosity rover image from Jan. 14 shows the view from the descent of Western Butte.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

From Curiosity's viewpoint, the trough is shallow and filled with dark sand. 

The rover has been tasked with capturing more images of the area for scientists to study. "We don't know what created this feature, or why it happens to be right here," Rice wrote, "so it's worth stopping for a closer look."    

The rover team named the ditch Balgy Trough, a reference to the scenic Falls of Balgy in Scotland. The team has been giving Scottish-inspired names to some martian landscape features in this region. 

Mars is full of fascinating formations, from little round nodules to rocks that coincidentally resemble familiar Earth items. The trough is yet another cool feature for scientists to investigate as we learn more about the wild and wonderful geology of the red planet.

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