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It’s a good day for NASA as Curiosity continues to impress on its mission. The rover spotted strange, two-toned veins of minerals in an area known as Garden City.
On its way up Mt. Sharp, the rover has been exploring the Gale Crater. What the two-tone mineral deposits could mean is multiple events of water flowed through the rock, long after the lake had dried up.
“Not only does this help us try to understand the chemistry of the rocks that we measure in the region, but on a different sort of scale it tells us that fluids were around on Mars for a long time,” said Linda Kah, a sedimentary geologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a member of Curiosity’s science team.
If life ever existed on Mars, this could be the environment for microbial life. It’s still a big if, but the Curiosity team continues to stack up finds on the red planet.
For fans of all things Mars, the exact location of the two-tone deposits are 39 feet above the lower edge of Pahrump Hill’s outcropping, in Garden City. Pahrump Hill is part of the basal layer of the three-mile high Mt. Sharp.
Describing the look of the deposits falls to Kah’s 10-year old son, Douglas. Looking over her shoulder at the images, he said the deposits look like ice cream sandwiches. Leave it to a kid to break it down for us all.
Mineral Veins on Mars
Most of the mineral veins on Mars have been bright and light-colored. Filled with calcium and sulfate, the closest approximation on Earth are similar deposits often indicative of salt water.
This new discovery? Dark deposits actually give scientists a snapshot into three different time periods. While Martian rocks are useful in making discoveries, mineral veins offer researchers snapshots in time on the surface of Mars.
“It was really very exciting for us,” Kah said. “Now we’ve just added complexity, so it makes it more fun to figure it out in the long run.”
Since landing on the surface of Mars in 2012, Curiosity has been padding its discovery resume. It has already found environments containing the right chemical ingredients for life.
Not-too-salty and not-too-acidic water was another find by the rover.
A lake that had drained and refilled over time may have also been discovered.
What does this new discovery add? Scientists believe this environment existed long after the lake at the Gale Crater dried up for good. The prevailing theory is the new deposits were created under a significant amount of rock – enough to create the kind of pressure to force fluid through cracks in the stone.
Could that mean life in the environment? Kah compares it to the microbial life that thrives at the Yellowstone hot springs.
Here’s hoping the rover keeps on trekking up the mountain and piling up discoveries.