Martian stucco and more spherules: Opportunity rover examines interesting rock outcrops

Closeup view of Whitewater Lake rock outcrop, with its unusual surface texture, kind of like stucco or plaster of Paris. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

The Opportunity rover has moved on a bit from Kirkwood, the previous rock outcrop with the new type of spherules in it that the scientists have taken so much interest in. It is now examining another odd-looking feature, a rather flat exposure of rock just a little to the north. Nicknamed Whitewater Lake, it is much lighter in colour than the surrounding rocks and soil and has a surface texture not seen before, sort of like stucco or plaster of Paris. Could it also be water or clay related? Only further analysis will hopefully provide some answers.

An enhanced and sharpened view of Whitewater Lake rock outcrop. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson
Another view of Whitewater Lake rock outcrop (original image). Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Next to Whitewater Lake is another interesting rock, nicknamed Errington, which is split into at least three large pieces and appears to be covered with the same tiny spherules first seen a bit farther south on the Kirkwood rock outcrop.

Errington rock, near the Whitewater Lake rock outcrop. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

Is there a connection between these very different types of rock outcrops? They look so different but are so close together. Are they related to the clay deposits in the area? We should know more soon… Thanks again to Stuart Atkinson for use of his excellent mosaic images.

Opportunity rover finds intriguing new spherules at Cape York

Mosaic image of the spherules in the rock outcrop on Cape York at Endeavour crater.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

Addendum: the day after this article was posted, an official report about these oddities was posted by NASA here. Interesting!

One of the most interesting discoveries made so far by the Opportunity rover on Mars has been the small round spherules or “blueberries” as they are commonly referred to, covering the ground at the rover’s landing site. Typically only a few millimetres across, some lie loose on the soil while others are imbedded in rock outcrops.

Analysis by Opportunity indicates that they are most likely a type of concretion, which are also found on Earth. These Martian concretions have been found to contain the mineral hematite, which explains its detection in this region from orbit, and one of the main reasons that the rover was sent to this location in Meridiani Planum in the first place. They are similar to the Moqui Marbles, iron-oxide concretions in the outcrops of Navajo Sanstone in Utah, which formed in groundwater.

Now, the rover (eight years later and still going!) has found what may be a different type of spherule. These ones generally resemble the previous ones, but are quite densely packed in an unusual rock outcrop that is on the eastern side of Cape York, the small island-like ledge on the rim of the huge Endeavour crater. With brittle-looking “fins” of material, the outcrop is an an area that from orbit has been identified as containing small clay deposits. There are also more substantial clay deposits farther south along Endeavour’s rim at the much larger Cape Tribulation, the next major destination of Opportunity.

See Universe Today for the full article.

Curiosity rover takes first self-portrait and other amazing new images

First “self-portrait” image of Curiosity, showing its “head” (the Mastcam) taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager camera (MAHLI) on the robotic arm. The camera lens dust cover was still in place for this test photo, hence the murkiness of the image. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

Curiosity continues its exploration of Gale crater, taking progressively longer drives away from its landing site, and returning stunning images back to Earth as it does so. The rover is making its way toward its first major science stop, Glenelg, which is about 400 metres away and closer to the foothills of Mount Sharp and is a spot where three different types of geological terrain meet together.

In the meantime, Curiosity took the first “self-portrait” photo of its “head” (the Mastcam), using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the robotic arm. For testing purposes, this one was taken with the dust cover still on the camera lens, but later images without it should be incredible. Other images have also been taken of the rover itself, showing the extended robotic arm and other instruments in exquisite detail.

From orbit, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has also just taken new high-resolution photos of the rover on the ground including the tracks it is leaving behind!

The images included here kind of speak for themselves…

Panoramic image from sol 29 (September 4, 2012) showing the tracks left behind Curiosity. Click for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems / Damien Bouic
Curiosity’s extended robotic arm. Click for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems / Damien Bouic
Instruments at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. The foothills of Mount Sharp are in the background.
Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems
Orbital image taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the Curiosity rover on the ground and its tracks behind it leading away from the landing site. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
Map showing Curiosity’s progress as of sol 29 (September 4, 2012) and the first major science destination, Glenelg.
Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Opportunity rover examines new rock outcrop in the search for clays

A portion of the rock outcrop. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

Although the Curiosity rover has been in the limelight the past few weeks, and for good reason, elsewhere on Mars the Opportunity rover continues its studies of the region around the rim of the huge Endeavour crater. Yes, she’s still there!

The rover is now in an area where clays have been identified from orbit, a prime target of the rover, as clays indicate a past watery environment which was non-acidic (ph neutral). It isn’t known exactly what these deposits might look like on the ground, but the rover is now investigating an interesting-looking outcrop of darker rock right in one of the clay deposit areas. Does it contain some of the long-sought clays? We don’t know yet, but it is still a curious-looking outcrop even if it doesn’t. It’s a mix of thin “fin-like” pieces, similar to others seen before in other locations, and other blocky chunks. Appearance-wise, it resembles dry, eroding clays on Earth.

Another portion of the rock outcrop. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson
Panorama of entire rock outcrop. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson
Anaglyph 3-D version of the rock outcrop panorama. Click for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Stuart Atkinson

The images in this post are courtesy of Stuart Atkinson, who does excellent work of stitching together individual images sent by the rover into more complete mosaics. Click on the two panoramas for larger versions. The last image is a 3-D anaglyph, so if you have 3-D glasses or other software, you can view it in even more realistic detail.

Mount Sharp comes into sharp focus

High-resolution view of mesas in the foothills of Mount Sharp. The tiny speck inside the white box is a boulder about the same size as the rover. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The Curiosity rover has returned yet more images of Mount Sharp, and these are the best and highest-resolution ones yet. Taken by the 100-millimeter Mastcam camera, they show the layering of the mesas in the foothills in incredible detail. Also note the tiny speck in the centre of the white box in the middle of the image (magnified in the bottom corner of the image); that is a boulder about the same size as the rover, which is car-sized, giving a sense of scale. These mesas are huge, and they are dwarfed by the rest of the mountain itself! The images above and below have been enhanced to show the colours as they would appear if they were on Earth. Click on the images for larger versions.

Another view, showing more of the foothills as well as terrain closer to the rover. Click on image for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

The image below is an orbital view from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the same region of foothills. This is where Curiosity will be driving later on; the mesas and canyons will be seen up close providing views never seen before by a rover on Mars. There is also a channel cutting through the middle portion of the image, which is thought to be an ancient riverbed. Other similar channels and their alluvial deposits can be seen elsewhere in this region. Click on the image for larger version and then click to zoom in.

Orbital view of mesas in the foothills of Mount Sharp. An ancient channel, thought to be a riverbed, cuts through the middle portion of the image. Click on image for larger version and then click to zoom in.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

A close-up look at Mount Sharp – canyon country!

A de-bayered verison of one of the new Mastcam images of the foothills of Mount Sharp. The bayering effect can still be
seen, but is now much less pronounced. Click image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damien Bouic

There are some new Mastcam images of Mount Sharp now posted on the Curiosity website (sol 17), showing the mesas and buttes in the foothills in a lot more detail. The amount of layering is amazing, a geologist’s dream, and they really do look a lot like the terrain in the southwestern United States. They are still several kilometres away at this point, but as the rover gets closer and actually starts to drive between some of them and see some of the canyons as well, the views will be even better!

The raw images, unfortunately, are often heavily bayered (the mosaic pattern of small squares covering the photos); they are displayed “as is” and haven’t been processed to remove the bayering effect yet. There’s a good explanation about this here. But again, other imaging experts out there have been cleaning up the images themselves as best they can, until more official high-resolution versions are released. The image above is another one from Damien Bouic, showing a de-bayered version of one of the new images. Original post here (French).

Curiosity’s landing on Mars – now in HD with audio!

There have been a number of Curiosity landing videos on the web lately, variations of the official versions, showing the incredible landing that the rover made about three weeks ago. Now there is another new official version, just posted on the Curiosity web site. This one is in beautiful HD colour, with audio from mission control added, as significant events occurred during the landing. It begins as before, with the heat shield separating and falling to the ground and continuing until the actual touchdown. Amazing!

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