Star-shaped and swallowtail-shaped tiny, dark bumps in fine-layered bright bedrock of a Martian ridge are drawing close inspection by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.
This set of shapes looks familiar to geologists who have studied gypsum crystals formed in drying lakes on Earth, but Curiosity’s science team is considering multiple possibilities for the origin of these features on “Vera Rubin Ridge” on Mars.
One uncertainty the rover’s inspection may resolve is the timing of when the crystal-shaped features formed, relative to when layers of sediment accumulated around them. Another is whether the original mineral that crystallized into these shapes remains in them or was subsequently dissolved away and replaced by something else. Answers may point to evidence of a drying lake or to groundwater that flowed through the sediment after it became cemented into rock.
The rover team also is investigating other clues on the same area to learn more about the Red Planet’s history. These include stick-shaped features the size of rice grains [see above], mineral veins with both bright and dark zones, color variations in the bedrock, smoothly horizontal laminations that vary more than tenfold in thickness of individual layers, and more than fourfold variation in the iron content of local rock targets examined by the rover.
“There’s just a treasure trove of interesting targets concentrated in this one area,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Each is a clue, and the more clues, the better. It’s going to be fun figuring out what it all means.” [More at link]