Mars Rover Examines Odd Material at Small, Young Crater

Mar 24, 2010
This image shows NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity perched on the edge of "Concepción" crater in Meridiani Planum, Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

(PhysOrg.com) -- Weird coatings on rocks beside a young Martian crater remain puzzling after a preliminary look at data from examination of the site by NASA's Opportunity rover.

The rover spent six weeks investigating the called "Concepción" before resuming its long journey this month. The crater is about 10 meters (33 feet) in diameter. Dark rays extending from it, as seen from orbit, flagged it in advance as a target of interest because the rays suggest the crater is young.

The rocks ejected outward from the impact that dug Concepción are chunks of the same type of bedrock Opportunity has seen at hundreds of locations since landing in January 2004: soft, sulfate-rich sandstone holding harder peppercorn-size dark spheres like berries in a muffin. The little spheres, rich in iron, gained the nickname "blueberries."

"It was clear from the images that Opportunity took on the approach to Concepción that there was strange stuff on lots of the rocks near the crater," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "There's dark, grayish material coating faces of the rocks and filling fractures in them. At least part of it is composed of blueberries jammed together as close as you could pack them. We've never seen anything like this before."

Opportunity used tools on its robotic arm to examine this unusual material on a rock called "Chocolate Hills." In some places, the layer of closely packed spheres lies between thinner, smoother layers. "It looks like a blueberry sandwich," said Matt Golombek, a rover science-team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Opportunity's microscopic imager took this detail view of the coating on "Chocolate Hills," on which a layer of peppercorn-size spheres nicknamed "blueberries" are packed densely. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Initial analysis of the coating's composition does not show any obvious component from whatever space rock hit Mars to dig the crater, but that is not a surprise, Golombek said. "The impact is so fast, most of the impactor vaporizes," he said. "Thin films of melt get thrown out, but typically the composition of the melt is the stuff that the impactor hit, rather than the impactor material."

The composition Opportunity found for the dark coating material fits at least two hypotheses being evaluated, and possibly others. One is that the material resulted from partial melting of blueberry-containing sandstone from the energy of the impact. Another is that it formed from filling of fractures in this type of rock before the impact occurred.

"It's possible that when you melt this rock, the sandstone melts before the blueberries do, leaving intact blueberries as part of a melt layer," Squyres said. "As an alternative, we know that this type of has fractures and that the sandstone can dissolve. Long ago, water flowing through fractures could have dissolved the sandstone and liberated blueberries that fell down into the fracture and packed together. In this hypothesis, the impact that excavated the crater did not play a role in forming this material, but split rocks along fractures so the material is exposed on the exterior like a coating."

Golombek said, "One consideration that jumps out is that we've been driving around this part of Mars for six years and never seen this stuff before, then we get to this young crater and it's coating rocks all around the crater. Sure looks like there's a connection, but it could just be a coincidence."

This view from Opportunity's panoramic camera shows "Chocolate Hills," in false color, which makes some differences between materials easier to see. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

The observation that the rocks thrown from the crater have not yet eroded away much is evidence that the crater is young, confirming the suggestion from the dark rays. Squyres said, "We're not ready to attach a number to it, but this is really young. It is the youngest crater we've ever seen with Opportunity and probably the youngest either rover has seen."

One question Opportunity's visit did answer was about the dark rays: "We wondered before getting to Concepción why the rays are dark," Golombek said. "We found out that the rays are areas with blocks of light-toned sandstone ejected from the crater. They look dark from orbit because of the shadows that the blocks are casting when the orbital images are taken in mid-afternoon."

Since departing Concepción on March 9, Opportunity has driven 614 meters (2,014 feet) farther along the route to its long-term destination at Endeavour Crater, about 19 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter and still at a drive distance of more than 12 kilometers (7 miles).

Squyres said, "We're on the road again. We have a healthy rover and we have enough power for substantial drives. We want to get to Endeavour with a healthy rover. It takes a compelling target for us to stop and study. And Concepción was a compelling target." JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Exploration Rover Project for the Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

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2347C8
1 / 5 (7) Mar 24, 2010
What about the part in circle?
http://img696.ima...rexa.jpg

It looks not very natural? 4 cornered stone ... ;O
Shootist
2 / 5 (8) Mar 24, 2010
Do you have your posts pulled for "trivial response"?
newscience
1.8 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2010
Those blueberries appear to be the the result of micro organisms. It seems so obvious. Look up Nanobes on google. Robert Folk discovered what he called NanoBacteria in the 90's later called Nanobes. They are everywhere. Life doesn't need just O2 and water to live, look up Astrobiology to see the extremes that life exists in now.
2347C8
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
Nanobes were discovered in 1996 (published in American Mineralogist, vol 83., 1998) by Philipa Uwins

Nanobes are similar in size to nanobacteria, which are also structures that have been proposed to be extremely small living organisms. However, these two should not be confused. Nanobacteria are supposed to be cellular organisms, while nanobes are hypothesized to be a previously unknown form of life.
http://en.wikiped...i/Nanobe
Adam
5 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2010
Macroscopic "blueberries" are an odd thing, but there's some odd chemistry on the Red Planet. That crust on the block of rock reminds one so strongly of crusty old lichens. If it was anywhere on Earth that's what I'd say... but Mars is weird.
ubavontuba
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 25, 2010
Interestingly, this "rock" resembles nothing less than a piece of petrified wood!

Maybe it's a petrified forest, with petrified lichen to boot!
lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
I'm just hugely impressed that both these little robots are still wandering around.
Titto
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
It is like scratching around in a 20 meter square area in the Sahara and think you can tell a lot of this planet???? NO NONONONONONOOOOOOOO
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
2347C8, do you see the two arrowheads buried in the sand? Hmmm..
stonehat
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
"Since departing Concepción on March 9, Opportunity has driven 614 meters (2,014 feet) farther along the route to its long-term destination at Endeavour Crater, about 19 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter and still at a drive distance of more than 12 kilometers (7 miles)."

Can the author see that there are missing figures there that the reader needs to make sense of these numbers ? namely how far the rover has come since starting out and when it started out.

More poor journalism.
GaryB
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
Interestingly, this "rock" resembles nothing less than a piece of petrified wood!

Maybe it's a petrified forest, with petrified lichen to boot!


OK, many people here, wholly ignorant of geology, depth, size and perception, still retain the ability to see "faces in the clouds". Good for you. But seeing a face in the cloud doesn't make a face really there.

Try to keep these kinds of observations private. It's best for all of us.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2010
Interestingly, this "rock" resembles nothing less than a piece of petrified wood!

Maybe it's a petrified forest, with petrified lichen to boot!


OK, many people here, wholly ignorant of geology, depth, size and perception, still retain the ability to see "faces in the clouds". Good for you. But seeing a face in the cloud doesn't make a face really there.

Try to keep these kinds of observations private. It's best for all of us.
Or, it might get people really excited about space exploration, budgets may swell, astronauts might visit and check it out.
frajo
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
it might get people really excited about space exploration, budgets may swell, astronauts might visit and check it out.
I people get too excited, they tend to rant about the end of the world in a black hole. Wrong advertisement attracts wrong people. They don't further the progress of science.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2010
Interestingly, this "rock" resembles nothing less than a piece of petrified wood!

Maybe it's a petrified forest, with petrified lichen to boot!
It also greatly resembles...

wait for it.....

sandstone.
baudrunner
3 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2010
It also greatly resembles..

wait for it....

paint flakes.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2010
Interestingly, this "rock" resembles nothing less than a piece of petrified wood!

Maybe it's a petrified forest, with petrified lichen to boot!
It also greatly resembles...

wait for it.....

sandstone.
Actually, the striations look three-dimensional (fibrous), not two-dimensional (layered).

Maybe it's an ancient table where a Martian ate too many blueberries... and horked!
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Mar 27, 2010
Oh well, at this time, I don't see much point in another mission to Mars unless it's either a manned mission, or some super-probe that can do some SERIOUS lab work
MobReign
5 / 5 (1) Mar 28, 2010
O.M.G... baudrunner is right, it's a map of the earth before the continents split...
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Mar 29, 2010
It could be... It could very well be... hmmm... (strokes bearded chin)
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Mar 29, 2010
Actually, the striations look three-dimensional (fibrous), not two-dimensional (layered).
And you're determining this from a two dimensional representation of a picture on your computer monitor as sent by a low res camera several millions of miles away that's currently being affected by an alien operating environment.

Ok then.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2010
Actually, the striations look three-dimensional (fibrous), not two-dimensional (layered).
And you're determining this from a two dimensional representation of a picture on your computer monitor as sent by a low res camera several millions of miles away that's currently being affected by an alien operating environment.

Ok then.
Not very observant then, are we?

Look closely within the major crack. Copy the picture onto your computer and magnify it. Clearly visible are dithered highlights which suggest the broken ends of fibers, not layers (they're small, random points). If it was layers, you'd expect the break to show the layers too (the highlights would tend to be long and parallel).

Put simply, it looks more like holding a bunch of broken spaghetti, than baklava.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2010
continued...

Of course there's also the telltale weathering on the left end, and the obvious cross layering of the large stony flake on the right (across the apparent grain), and the splintered look of the material to the left of the major crack, and...

Need I go on?
Skeptic_Heretic
Mar 30, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2010
It's called magnetite. When you heat iron to high temperature then rapidly cool it it will magnetically align to the strongest present magnetic field. As the metal cools the crystals align and are pulled taut in a verticle pattern.

It looks fiberous because it is fiberous, it's a piece of magnetically splayed iron. But do feel free to go on, between your AWT posts, jackass.
Ooh, a little touchy now, are we? Why don't you show us a picture of a hunk of commmon magnite that looks remarkably similar? Can you? I think not!

Magnetite looks like this:
http://skywalker....iteL.htm
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Mar 30, 2010
Ooh, a little touchy now, are we? why don't you show us a picture of hunk of commmon magnite that looks remarkably similar? Can you? I think not!

Magnetite looks like this:

When it's formed within an atmosphere or underwater as your link shows, yes it does. When it isn't, it doesn't. Ask a geologist, or are they tired of dealing with your 14 different self ranking screennames as well?
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2010
Ooh, a little touchy now, are we? why don't you show us a picture of hunk of commmon magnite that looks remarkably similar? Can you? I think not!

Magnetite looks like this:

When it's formed within an atmosphere or underwater as your link shows, yes it does. When it isn't, it doesn't. Ask a geologist, or are they tired of dealing with your 14 different self ranking screennames as well?

Show us a picture then. Make sure you don't accidently show us a picture of petrified wood!
ubavontuba
Mar 30, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
I'm going to act in accordance with the TOS and stop feeding the petrified wood on Mars troll as anyone with common sense and even an inkling of geological (2nd grade natural sciences) science education can tell the difference between wind eroded, iron splashed sandstone: http://cdn.physor...rexa.jpg

Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
truncated post continued:

between sandstone as above

And Petrified wood. http://www.states...o-WA.jpg
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2010
I'm going to act in accordance with the TOS and stop feeding the petrified wood on Mars troll as anyone with common sense and even an inkling of geological (2nd grade natural sciences) science education can tell the difference between wind eroded, iron splashed sandstone: http://cdn.physor...rexa.jpg

truncated post continued:

between sandstone as above

And Petrified wood. http://www.states...o-WA.jpg
So, you admit you couldn't find an example of magnetite that resembles this? Did you notice that a segment of your petrified wood looks remarkably like the Mars inmage (upper right quadrant)?

Here are some more images that look very similar:
eapsweb.mit.edu/.../Day 1/day one.html

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PetrifiedWood...

www.shannontech.c...est.html

www.istockphoto.c...48678...
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2010
Did you notice that a segment of your petrified wood looks remarkably like the Mars inmage (upper right quadrant)?
If you think those look alike, my point is proven.
ubavontuba
Mar 30, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ubavontuba
Mar 30, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2010
Did you notice that a segment of your petrified wood looks remarkably like the Mars inmage (upper right quadrant)?
If you think those look alike, my point is proven.

Yeah? How's that work?

Here's some of the links again:
http://commons.wi...PFSP.jpg

http://www.shanno...est.html

http://www.istock...ture.php

ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 30, 2010
I'm having trouble making these two work:

http://eapsweb.mi...2007/Day 1/day one.html

http://www.stormf...t=635169

I hope they work. That last one is hilarious! (page down a little!)
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2010
Ah ha. Here's the exact link I was trying to post. Although it's about the moon landings, it seems fitting here too.

http://www.stormf...tcount=3
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2010
I'm going to act in accordance with the TOS and stop feeding the petrified wood on Mars troll as anyone with common sense and even an inkling of geological (2nd grade natural sciences) science education can tell the difference between wind eroded, iron splashed sandstone:
Oh brother! Let's see, first you said it was sandstone, then you implied my three dimensional assessment was wrong, then you claimed it's magnetite and it's fibrous after all (although you couldn't supply a similar picture of magnetite). You also accused me of being the AWT enthusiast (I'm not) and called me a jackass (OK, I'll give you that one), and you accused me of having 14 screen names (I only have the one), after all that you claim your going to keep to the TOS? Aren't you a little late?

Now, you go back to calling it sandstone again!

Make up your mind. Do you think it's sandstone or magnetite? And is it layered or fibrous?
Skeptic_Heretic
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2010
Do you not understand what I'm talking about?

You have a perfectly good picture of wind eroded sandstone displaced and splashed with magnetite. If you're this confused by an explanation of a picture I think this would be the site for you:
http://www.uofphx.info
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2010
Do you not understand what I'm talking about?

You have a perfectly good picture of wind eroded sandstone displaced and splashed with magnetite. If you're this confused by an explanation of a picture I think this would be the site for you:
http://www.uofphx.info
And there goes the TOS again.

Seriously, sandstone WITH magnetite now? Do you know anything about mineralogy? It seems not. Please explain the processes involved and provide pictures of similar samples. Can you?
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2010
The depth of your ignorance coupled with your inability to read and comprehend is frightening.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2010
The depth of your ignorance coupled with your inability to read and comprehend is frightening.
You're just showing that you can't back up your own claims (and that you're quite immature, to boot).