Scientists have found mysterious tube-like structures in a photo of rocks on the Red Planet by the Curiosity rover.
NASA is abuzz with the discovery of some utterly strange tube-like structures that were photographed on the surface of rocks by the Curiosity rover recently. These bizarre tubes, just a few millimeters in length, have sparked all sorts of speculation on what could have caused them.
“Meanwhile, back on Mars, I’m checking out these stick-like figures,” the Curiosity Rover’s official Twitter account tweeted on Jan. 3. “Each is about a quarter-inch long. Maybe they’re crystals? Or they could be minerals that filled spaces where crystals dissolved away. Stay tuned! Science continues.”
Nobody would notice these tiny tubes in the photos unless they were taking a very close look at them, which is what scientists did, leading to the discovery. Scientists aren’t sure however if this is a geological or a biological find, like trace fossils from long-dead organisms that may have once lived on the Red Planet.
However, most experts seem to think that a mineral explanation is a far more likely one. Unfortunately, there’s really no way for us to learn more about it as Curiosity isn’t equipped with the tools for closer examination, so for now it will have to be a mystery.
Here’s a mission update from NASA that mentions the interesting find.
There’s no real rest for the rover. We planned sols 1921-1924 on December 22 and 29. Earlier, the team had planned a minimal set of activities for the rover to carry out over Sols 1913-1920, letting the science and engineering teams spend a bit of time away from work. However, this doesn’t mean Curiosity was sitting idle. There were still plenty of things to do on Mars, including some automated ChemCam AEGIS observations. These activities automatically pick out targets of interest and measure their chemistry at our current parking spot.
On New Year’s Eve, the rover started carrying out the four-sol activity plan we completed Dec. 29. This site was so interesting that we backtracked to get to where the rover was parked for this plan. In the workspace in front of the rover, we have some very peculiar targets that warranted some additional interrogation. From orbit, this location has a very interesting appearance, with bluer hues being observed in High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera data onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. On the ground, we are making Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer measurements on two targets, Haroldswick (the dark toned “stick”-like features observed in this Mastcam image from sol 1905) and the Raasay target.
We are using these observations to help characterize the interesting compositional variability observed at this location even further. We also planned several ChemCam activities to aid in understanding this ever-evolving compositional story Curiosity is unraveling. In all, while the science and engineering teams took some time off over the holiday season, Curiosity was hard at work on Mars.
Here’s a brief overview of Curiosity’s mission on Mars from NASA.
Part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It launched November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012).
Curiosity set out to answer the question: Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms called microbes? Early in its mission, Curiosity’s scientific tools found chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars. It continues to explore the rock record from a time when Mars could have been home to microbial life.
Surveying Gale Crater
Curiosity explores Gale Crater and acquires rock, soil, and air samples for onboard analysis. The car-size rover is about as tall as a basketball player and uses a 7 foot-long arm to place tools close to rocks selected for study. Curiosity’s large size allows it to carry an advanced kit of 10 science instruments. It has tools including 17 cameras, a laser to vaporize and study small pinpoint spots of rocks at a distance, and a drill to collect powdered rock samples. It hunts for special rocks that formed in water and/or have signs of organics.
Strong, Smart and Curious
Curiosity carries the biggest, most advanced instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface. The history of Martian climate and geology is written in the chemistry and structure of the rocks and soil. Curiosity reads this record by analyzing powdered samples drilled from rocks. It also measures the chemical fingerprints present in different rocks and soils to determine their composition and history, especially their past interactions with water.
Coming in for a Landing
Mars Science Laboratory arrived at Mars through technological innovations that tested a completely new landing method. The spacecraft descended on a parachute, then during the final seconds before landing, the landing system fired rockets to allow it to hover while a tether lowered Curiosity to the surface. The rover landed on its wheels, the tether was cut, and the landing system flew off to crash-land a safe distance away.
Curiosity is more mobile than any previous rover
It is fit to climb over knee-high obstacles and travels about 100 feet (30 meters) per hour, depending on instrument activity, the terrain, and visibility its cameras have of the path ahead. The rover carries a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. This electrical power source has already far exceeded its required operating lifespan on Mars’ surface of at least one full Martian year (687 Earth days). The generator provides greater mobility and flexibility in operating the rover regardless of season or sunlight. The steady flow of electrical power has enhanced the science payload capability and permitted consideration of landing sites at a greater range of latitudes than was possible on previous rovers.