Martian rock reveals complicated crystallization process from volcanic chamber or lava flow?

The world seems to be in a time warp; with earthquakes on the rise, increasing volatility amongst nations in the Middle East, rising gas prices, shortages of pork, worldwide record weather conditions, financial collapses rumored in Greece and Spain, and now NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found a mineral composition never before seen on Mars, one could argue that our world is becoming much smaller. Following a close investigative study of the Martian rock reveals it was perhaps formed through a complicated crystallization process from a volcanic chamber or lava flow.

Scientists have called the results surprising. “I don’t think we know when it was formed,” said Caltech provost Edward Stopler, a co-investigator for Curiosity’s science team. “It’s out of place; it’s not part of an outcrop, so it’s a rock that’s taken a little out of context.” Scientists could have a more definitive idea about the rock’s origins if more like it are found during Curiosity’s two-year Mars mission at Gale Crater.

The rover is resuming activities this week after halting for a “shiny object” on the ground that turned out to have been dropped by Curiosity.

JPL engineers believe the object is an adhesive bond from a heater or a plastic wrapper that may have fallen on the rover from its descent to Mars in August.

“The main thing is we scoured the rover, and it’s completely inconsequential to the rover’s functions,” said Chris Roumeliotis, JPL’s lead turret rover planner.

Working at a fine-grained patch of ground called Rocknest, Curiosity will take its time for the next week undergoing a cleaning process for one of its instruments and analyzing a soil sample.

Curiosity encountered the Matijevic rock in late September, studying it primarily for calibration of the Mars Science Laboratory’s ChemCam laser and X-ray spectrometer.

Its composition showed the presence of silicon, sodium, potassium and rubidium.

“Jake is kind of an odd Martian rock,” said X-ray spectrometer Principal Investigator Ralf Gellert. “It’s high in elements consistent with the mineral feldspar, and low in magnesium and iron.”

Similar rocks can be found on Earth, mostly on volcanic islands such as Hawaii, Stopler said.

He compared the rock’s possible formation to the fermentation of applejack liquor, which involves crystallization that removes some elements of the liquid.

The Matijevic rock could have formed through relatively water-rich magma that crystallized through high pressure.

Curiosity is on a two-year, $2.5 billion mission to investigate whether it is possible to live on Mars and to learn whether conditions there might have been able to support life in the past.

With so much happening in the world over the last few years, it might not be too surprising for scientist to finally find evidence of life beyond planet earth, after all, isn’t that NASA’s primary goal.


Contributor D. Chandler

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