On Mars, Curiosity photographed strange rocky tentacles

Curiosity may no longer be NASA’s and the public’s beloved, but it continues to be an active contributor to Mars science.

Although Perseverance has tended to steal the show since landing on Mars, the Curiosity rover continues to be useful away from the cameras. Some time ago he took a stunning picture of a rock structure that looked striking as it looked like a funny little flower; this time, the robot flushed out a couple of strange pillars that could look like rods.

Their shape is surprising in this landscape, where rather vertical structures are rare; it almost looks like a liquid that instantly solidified in the vacuum of the room. Some might also see some kind of petrified plant there, or even a foreign tentacle that has emerged from the dust. But the actual explanation is a bit less intriguing.

The Mars equivalent of hoodoos?

According to scientists, it is probably a miniature equivalent to the hoodoos found on Earth. These are natural rock pillars, which have the special feature of being overcome by a kind of cap consisting of another rock. The best known are in Turkey, but they are also found in France, especially near the Alps or in Queyras.

All terrestrial environments where they exist have one thing in common: There is an abundance of sedimentary rocks. These are brittle and rather weak rocks that are formed by the accumulation of deposits due to erosion.

Under certain conditions, these rocks can be squeezed and compressed between other layers of much denser, erosion-resistant rock. Over the centuries, therefore, the various points of the earth have not been planed at the same speed; water and wind infiltrate small spaces, and over time they begin to dig furrows in the most brittle rock.

This results in a snowball effect: this erosion digs furrows, which gradually turn into channels where water can flow. This leads to an ever-increasing erosion, which leaves only a few relatively vertical structures, a bit like figures whose mold has been dissolved.

Turkey is filled with extremely impressive fairy chimneys, both for geologists and for hikers. Those of Mars are much smaller, but at least as interesting. © Fe3Al2Si3O12 – Wikimedia Commons

Direct evidence of Mars’ fluid past

This is not the first time Curiosity has discovered structures that were likely formed as a result of such a process. The “flowers” that the rover has recently seen are also sedimentary structures. The same goes for piles of small rocky spheres torn from the surface by erosion, which NASA has affectionately called “blueberries.”

All of these are of particular interest to researchers; it is almost an indisputable proof that there was actually water on the surface of the red planet. This reflects the results of Perseverance, whose work enabled NASA to confirm that the Jezero Crater was in fact a formerly dry lake (see our article).

But on Earth, these sedimentary rocks, shaped by the movements of liquids, are all potential containers that can hold traces of a past life. NASA therefore hopes that there are still traces of hypothetical Mars life nearby.

By analyzing these rocks and their environments through various rovers such as Curiosity or Perseverance, NASA therefore hopes to find traces of the planet’s geological past. She will thus be able to try to answer the eternal question of life on Mars.

We are also in the middle of a very exciting period at this level. Perseverance is currently exploring the delta at the edge of the Jezero crater, where it landed last year (see our article). it is the main purpose of its mission, because several of the conditions that could potentially have contributed to the emergence of a way of life as we know it are fulfilled there. It is therefore advisable to pay attention, because it is not excluded that NASA will make a historic announcement in the coming months.

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