Mount Sharp

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Aeolis Mons
673885main PIA15986-full full.jpg
The rover Curiosity landed on August 6, 2012, near the base of Aeolis Mons.
Location Gale crater on Mars
Coordinates 5°05′S 137°51′E / 5.08°S 137.85°E / -5.08; 137.85Coordinates: 5°05′S 137°51′E / 5.08°S 137.85°E / -5.08; 137.85
Peak Aeolis Mons – 5.5 km (18,000 ft) high[1]
Discoverer NASA in the 1970s
Eponym Aeolis Mons – Aeolis albedo feature
Mount SharpRobert P. Sharp (1911–2004)

Mount Sharp, officially Aeolis Mons (IPA: [ˈiːəlɨs ˈmɒnz]), is a mountain on Mars. It forms the central peak within Gale crater and is located around 5°05′S 137°51′E / 5.08°S 137.85°E / -5.08; 137.85, rising 5.5 km (18,000 ft) high from the valley floor. It has the ID of 15,000 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature from the US Geological Survey.[2]

On August 6, 2012, Curiosity (the Mars Science Laboratory rover) landed in "Yellowknife" Quad 51[3][4][5][6] of Aeolis Palus,[7] next to the mountain. NASA named the landing site Bradbury Landing on August 22, 2012.[8] Aeolis Mons is a primary goal for scientific study.[9] On June 5, 2013, NASA announced that Curiosity would begin an 8 km (5.0 mi) journey from the Glenelg area to the base of Aeolis Mons. On November 13, 2013, NASA announced that an entryway Curiosity would traverse on its way to Aeolis Mons was to be named "Murray Buttes", in honor of planetary scientist Bruce C. Murray (1931–2013).[10] The trip was expected to take about a year and would include stops along the way to study the local terrain.[11][12][13]

On September 11, 2014, NASA announced that the Curiosity rover had reached Aeolis Mons, the rover mission's long-term prime destination.[14][15]

On October 5, 2015, possible recurrent slope lineae, wet brine flows, were reported on Mount Sharp near Curiosity.[16]

On June 1, 2017, NASA reported that an ancient striated lake had existed in Gale crater that could have been favorable for microbial life.[17][18][19]

As of November 23, 2017, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for 1883 sols (1935 days) since landing on August 6, 2012. (See Current status.)


The mountain appears to be an enormous mound of eroded sedimentary layers sitting on the central peak of Gale. It rises 5.5 km (18,000 ft) above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern crater floor, higher than the southern crater rim. The sediments may have been laid down over an interval of 2 billion years,[20] and may have once completely filled the crater. Some of the lower sediment layers may have originally been deposited on a lake bed,[20] while observations of possibly cross-bedded strata in the upper mound suggest aeolian processes.[21] However, this issue is debated,[22][23] and the origin of the lower layers remains unclear.[21] If katabatic wind deposition played the predominant role in the emplacement of the sediments, as suggested by reported 3 degree radial slopes of the mound's layers, erosion would have come into play largely to place an upper limit on the mound's growth.[24][25]

On December 8, 2014, a panel of NASA scientists discussed (archive 62:03) the latest observations of Curiosity about how water may have helped shape the landscape of Mars, including Aeolis Mons, and had a climate long ago that could have produced long-lasting lakes at many Martian locations.[26][27][28]

On October 8, 2015, NASA confirmed that lakes and streams existed in Gale crater 3.3 - 3.8 billion years ago delivering sediments to build up the lower layers of Mount Sharp.[29][30]

Understanding size[edit]

Mons Hadley, on the Moon, is 4.5 km (15,000 ft) high.[31]
Mountain km high
Aeolis 5.5
Huygens 5.5
Denali 5.5 (btp)
Blanc 4.8 (asl)
Uhuru 4.6 (btp)
Fuji 3.8 (asl)
Zugspitze 3

Aeolis Mons is 5.5 km (18,000 ft) high, about the same height as Mons Huygens, the tallest lunar mountain, and taller than Mons Hadley visited by Apollo 15. The tallest mountain known in the Solar System is in Rheasilvia crater on the asteroid Vesta, which contains a central mound that rises 22 km (14 mi; 72,000 ft) high; Olympus Mons on Mars is nearly the same height, at 21.9 km (13.6 mi; 72,000 ft) high.

In comparison, Mount Everest rises to 8.8 km (29,000 ft) altitude above sea level (asl), but is only 4.6 km (15,000 ft) (base-to-peak) (btp).[32] Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro is about 5.9 km (19,000 ft) altitude above sea level to the Uhuru peak;[33] also 4.6 km base-to-peak.[34] America's Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, has a base-to-peak of 5.5 km (18,000 ft).[35] The Franco-Italian Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco is 4.8 km (16,000 ft) in altitude above sea level,[36][37] Mount Fuji, which overlooks Tokyo, Japan, is about 3.8 km (12,000 ft) altitude. Compared to the Andes, Aeolis Mons would rank outside the hundred tallest peaks, being roughly the same height as Argentina's Cerro Pajonal; the peak is higher than any above sea level in Oceania, but base-to peak it is considerably shorter than Hawaii's Mauna Kea and its neighbors.


Discovered in the 1970s, the mountain remained nameless for perhaps 40 years. When it became a likely landing site, it was given various labels; for example, in 2010 a NASA photo caption called it "Gale crater mound".[38] In March 2012, NASA unofficially named it "Mount Sharp", for American geologist Robert P. Sharp.[1][39]

Comparison of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) to the sizes of three large mountains on Earth.

The International Astronomical Union, which is responsible for planetary nomenclature for its participants, names large Martian mountains after the Classical albedo feature in which it is located, not for people. In May 2012 the IAU thus named the mountain Aeolis Mons, and gave the name Aeolis Palus to the crater floor plain between the northern wall of Gale and the northern foothills of the mountain.[1][40][41][42] In recognition of NASA and in honour of Sharp, the IAU gave the name "Robert Sharp" to a large crater (150 km (93 mi) in diameter), located about 260 km (160 mi) west of Gale, following its standard practice of naming large craters after scientists.

NASA and the ESA[43] continue to refer to the mountain as "Mount Sharp" in press conferences and press releases. This is similar to other informal names, such as the Columbia Hills near one of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites. Sky & Telescope explained the rationales of the two names to their readers in August 2012, and held an informal poll to newsletter readers. Over 2700 voted and picked Aeolis Mons over Mount Sharp by 57% to 43%.[39] The official name, "Aeolis Mons", is recorded by the United States Geological Survey.[41]

Aeolis is the ancient name of the Izmir region in western Turkey.

Spacecraft exploration[edit]

On December 16, 2014, NASA reported detecting, based on measurements by the Curiosity rover, an unusual increase, then decrease, in the amounts of methane in the atmosphere of the planet Mars; as well as, detecting Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock by the Curiosity rover. Also, based on deuterium to hydrogen ratio studies, much of the water at Gale Crater on Mars was found to have been lost during ancient times, before the lakebed in the crater was formed; afterwards, large amounts of water continued to be lost.[44][45][46]

On June 1, 2017, NASA reported that the Curiosity rover provided evidence of an ancient lake in Gale crater on Mars that could have been favorable for microbial life; the ancient lake was stratified, with shallows rich in oxidants and depths poor in oxidants; and, the ancient lake provided many different types of microbe-friendly environments at the same time. NASA further reported that the Curiosity rover will continue to explore higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp in order to determine how the lake environment in ancient times on Mars became the drier environment in more modern times.[17][18][19]

On August 5, 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover mission landing, and related exploratory accomplishments, on the planet Mars.[47][48] (Videos: Curiosity's First Five Years (02:07); Curiosity's POV: Five Years Driving (05:49); Curiosity's Discoveries About Gale Crater (02:54))

Curiosity mission[edit]

Curiosity at Mount Sharp
Self-portrait of the Curiosity rover at the Mojave site (January 31, 2015).

As of November 23, 2017, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for 1883 sols (1935 total days; 5 years, 109 days) since landing on August 6, 2012. Since September 11, 2014, Curiosity has been exploring the slopes of Mount Sharp,[14][15] where more information about the history of Mars is expected to be found.[49] As of late August 2017, the rover has traveled over 17.21 km (10.69 mi) and climbed over 165 m (541 ft) in elevation[50][51] to, and around, the mountain base since landing at "Bradbury Landing" in August 2012.[50][51]

The Curiosity rover is exploring the slopes of Mount Sharp.[14][15]
Close-up map - planned route from "Dingo Gap" to "Kimberley" (KMS-9) (HiRISE image)
(February 18, 2014/Sol 547).
Traverse map - Curiosity traveled over 17.21 km (10.69 mi) since leaving its "start" point in Yellowknife Bay on July 4, 2013 (now beyond the "3-sigma safe-to-land ellipse" border) (HiRISE image)
(August 23, 2017/Sol 1794).
Context map - Curiosity's trip to Mount Sharp (star=landing; triangle=stops)
(November 23, 2014/Sol 817).[11][12][13]
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Location map - Curiosity rover at the base of Mount Sharp - as viewed from Space (MRO; HiRISE; August 23, 2017/Sol 1794).
Curiosity at Mount Sharp
Curiosity rover (within rectangle) in the Pahrump Hills of Mount Sharp – as viewed from space
(MRO; HiRISE; December 13, 2014).
Curiosity rover (center bright blue) on Mount Sharp viewed from space (MRO; HiRISE; June 5, 2017).[52]
Geology map – from the crater floor in Aeolis Palus up the Slopes of Aeolis Mons
(September 11, 2014).
Rocks in "Hidden Valley" near the "Pahrump Hills" on the slopes of Aeolis Mons as viewed from the Curiosity Rover
(September 11, 2014; white balanced).


Curiosity's view of "Mount Sharp" (September 20, 2012; white balanced) (raw color).
Curiosity's view of the "Rocknest" area – South is center/North at both ends; "Mount Sharp" at SE horizon (somewhat left-of-center); "Glenelg" at East (left-of-center); rover tracks at West (right-of-center) (November 16, 2012; white balanced) (raw color) (interactives).
Curiosity's view near "Logan Pass" on the slopes of "Mount Sharp" (May 10, 2015; white balanced image).
Curiosity's view of "Mount Sharp" (September 9, 2015).
Curiosity's view of Mars sky at sunset (February 2013; sun simulated by artist).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c ""Mount Sharp" on Mars Compared to Three Big Mountains on Earth". NASA. March 27, 2012. Retrieved March 31, 2012. 
  2. ^ Aeolis Mons
  3. ^ NASA Staff (August 10, 2012). "Curiosity's Quad – IMAGE". NASA. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  4. ^ Agle, DC; Webster, Guy; Brown, Dwayne (August 9, 2012). "NASA's Curiosity Beams Back a Color 360 of Gale Crate". NASA. Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  5. ^ Amos, Jonathan (August 9, 2012). "Mars rover makes first colour panorama". BBC News. Retrieved August 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ Halvorson, Todd (August 9, 2012). "Quad 51: Name of Mars base evokes rich parallels on Earth". USA Today. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
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  8. ^ Brown, Dwayne; Cole, Steve; Webster, Guy; Agle, D.C. (August 22, 2012). "NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing". NASA. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  9. ^ NASA Staff (August 6, 2012). "NASA Lands Car-Size Rover Beside Martian Mountain". NASA/JPL. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Webster, Guy; Brown, Dwayne (November 13, 2013). "Mars Rover Teams Dub Sites In Memory of Bruce Murray". NASA. Retrieved November 14, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Staff (June 5, 2013). "From 'Glenelg' to Mount Sharp". NASA. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Chang, Alicia (June 5, 2013). "Curiosity rover to head toward Mars mountain soon". AP News. Retrieved June 7, 2013. 
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  53. ^ Mars Science Laboratory: Multimedia-Images

Further reading[edit]

  • Jürgen Blunck – Mars and its Satellites, A Detailed Commentary on the Nomenclature, 2nd edition. 1982.

External links[edit]