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Mystery spheres photographed on Mars

Posted on Sunday, 16 September, 2012 | Comment icon 20 comments | News tip by: Waspie_Dwarf

Image credit: NASA

The Opportunity rover has snapped a picture of strange spherules that has experts scratching their heads.

Curiosity might have been hitting the headlines lately but on a different part of the Red Planet its fellow rover Opportunity is still going strong. The latest images returned show a dense concentration of strange spherical shapes on the Martian surface. The spheres are similar to those found by Opportunity in 2004 ( nicknamed 'blueberries' ) but there are stark differences.

"This is one of the most extraordinary pictures from the whole mission," said principal investigator Steve Squyres. "Kirkwood is chock full of a dense accumulation of these small spherical objects. Of course, we immediately thought of the blueberries, but this is something different. We never have seen such a dense accumulation of spherules in a rock outcrop on Mars."

"NASA's long-lived rover Opportunity has returned an image of the Martian surface that is puzzling researchers."

  View: Full article |  Source: NASA

  Discuss: View comments (20)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #11 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 17 September, 2012, 0:47
Don't kid yourself. The experts might not know the answers but at least they fully understand the question.
Comment icon #12 Posted by keithisco on 17 September, 2012, 12:12
My immediate thought was that of boiling mud or sediment, of which there are many examples on earth (Solfatara for example). The only thing that is difficult to understand is the precise mechanism on how this mud soilidified quickly enough to retain the bubble coating. Does Opportunity have the capability to potentially sample any trapped gasses within these bubbles? Any evidence of sulphur compounds inside the bubbles?
Comment icon #13 Posted by bison on 17 September, 2012, 14:51
I've seen boiling, bubbling mud springs at Yellowstone, popularly known as 'mud pots'. Three observations come to mind. 1.) These mud covered bubbles are notably fragile; they burst within a second or less. 2.)One of the reasons bubbles collapse is that they lose moisture. Their drying intact, so that they could be fossilized, seems almost a contradiction in terms. 3.) As observed before, bubbles form half spheres on a flat surface. Many of the objects in the Kirkwood outcrop, just discovered on Mars, appear to be complete or nearly complete spheres.
Comment icon #14 Posted by keithisco on 17 September, 2012, 17:12
I am not seeing complete, or nearly complete spheres, they resemble quite closely the fumaroles formed underwater (except on a very small scale) from volcanic extrusion of gasses. IF (and this is a very big IF) the atmospheric conditions on Mars, at the point of extrusion was so cold (as indeed it is now), then possibly, these extrusions froze on contact with the air. Whilst bubbles do indeed collapse. the coating on the bubbles may just solidify retaing the original bubble shape, and indeed this does happen in countless ancient magma fields on earth. I would also add that perfect spheres do... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by goodgodno on 17 September, 2012, 23:26
What an interesting looking rock! Will be interesting to hear what the experts come up with. My suggestions would be either a conglomerate of some sort (30% pebbles, 70% silt) which has become metamorphosed, and subseuqently eroded or a very complicated dike structure (unlike any I have seen before), the outcrops of which have become eroded.
Comment icon #16 Posted by goodgodno on 17 September, 2012, 23:34
Example of multiple dikes:
Comment icon #17 Posted by bison on 18 September, 2012, 2:17
The Cape York area of the Western rim of the Endeavour crater, where these peculiar spheres were found, is dominated by basalt, a dark, iron-rich, volcanic mineral. It's interesting to note that about the first thing they checked for in the spheres was their iron content, presumably because the previously known spheres, known as 'blueberries', are high in iron. The new spheres were found to be quite low in iron, which appears to rule out both the sedimentary concretions (blueberries) and basalt. There is a general absence of metamorphic rock on the surface of Mars, due to the shutt... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by Parsec on 19 September, 2012, 0:04
You're absolutely right bison, but that's true today. We don't know (or maybe I don't, in this case I'll be pleased to be corrected) how long lasted and when the magnetic field of Mars became so weak: it could have lasted enough to allow the right conditions for a right atmosphere to form, and thus the right conditions for a liquid form of water and a warmer surface temperature (helped by the fact that at that time the planet was geologically alive). And all these conditions could have allowed the presence of life, even on a multicellular level. Anyway, these are only hyp... [More]
Comment icon #19 Posted by Parsec on 19 September, 2012, 0:20
Ookay guys, I need your opinion. And to be calmed down. Maybe I've found what they reminded me, and it's not geological at all. Here there's the detail of the martian bubbles I posted before And here there's an image of some Nummulites ( ) Can you see the cylindrical shape rising from the middle of the circles? To me they look like the same! I'm not saying that these are Nummulites, but maybe they could be some fossils with the same internal structure! Should I drink less?
Comment icon #20 Posted by bison on 19 September, 2012, 16:22
Could be something similar to Nummulites, but a good deal more would have to learned about the structure of the Martian objects before a really convincing case could be made for this. Some more information about work on the Kirkwood outcrop has appeared this morning. It seems that the rock fins are basalt, but that the spheres on them may be sedimentary, which leaves open the possibility of fossils. Link to article on this: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-09/plucky-mars-rover-opportunitys-newest-jackpot-should-steal-some-curiositys-limelight

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