NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took stunning images of Mars’ layered rock formations. The images were taken on Sept. 8 with Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam). According to scientists at the NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the photos rival even the photos taken in US National Parks.

The photos were taken during Curiosity’s last stop in the Murray Buttes, where it drove across for more than one month.  The photos include the Red Planet’s buttes and mesas elevated above the surface, which are the leftovers of the ancient sandstone that existed when winds deposited sand after lower Mount Sharp developed and eroded over time.

According to Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada, the area is kind of like the American desert Southwest on Mars.

The buttes could help us understand more about the ancient Martian sand dunes that formed and then got buried. We could also understand how  the chemical changes from the groundwater, erosion and exhumation of the ancient sand dunes transformed the Martian landscape that we know today.

Currently, the rover is exploring the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp.  In the area,  Curiosity is figuring out how and when the habitable ancient conditions, determined from the mission’s previous findings, transformed into conditions that are drier and less sustainable for life.

Curiosity will then head farther south and higher up Mount Sharp. During the journey, the scientists hope to one day assemble large, colored mosaics from the images taken by the rover.

Curiosity landed near Mount Sharp in 2012. In 2014, the rover reached Mount Sharp’s base.

The rover found that the ancient lakes in the Red Planet used to have conditions favorable for microbes, if the planet was actually occupied by life. Unfortunately, this changed, and for billions of years, the sediment that was located within the ancient lakes eventually formed into the rock layers found at the base of Mount Sharp.