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February 21, 2004 11:45

Martian Spherical Fossils?

On Sol 15, Opportunity had it's first opportunity to image "Stone Mountain" with the onboard Microscopic Imager. The results were stunning. Not only did the spheriods exist on the surrounding landscape...they were embedded in the outcrop of ancient Martian bedrock!

 

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Note: All images have been scaled down for viewing purposes. To see full resolution, please open image in new window.

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At first glance, it is quite noticable the layered cavities of "Stone Mountain" are filled with embedded spheroids. The cause of this phenomenon is unknown, many have educated guesses, including JPL...substractive wind erosion is the top candidate. If this is so...then it would be possible for the spheres to be Martian fossils. They are being sandblasted away from the bedrock like paleontologists excavate dinosaur bones from limestone.

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Close up showing the interior of a sphere. This sphere reminds one of a fossilized seed, broken in half and exposing the meat inside the shell. What is unusual about this particular spheriod, and possibly the most exciting, was it appeared to be "attached" to the bedrock itself!

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Attaching "membrane" mechanism between sphere and bedrock.

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In the raw image 1M129515692EFF0312P2939M2M1.JPG, we find two distinctive, and fundamental charateristics of the bedrock, and the spheriods embedded within it. In the above enhancement, the bedrock exhibits a 'folded' quality, with a bulbous texture on the edges.

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In this raw image, the Microscopic Imager has provided unprecedented clarity of a Martian rock, or is it? At first a relationship between the rock and sphere is not clear, but when looking closer a possible connection is discovered.

 

Labeled, showing the possible connecting points.

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In this enhancement, the top rear of the sphere appears to be attached by 'cords.' It is possible this is an optical illustion, and the surface of the rock behind the sphere has been pitted by eons of sandblasting.

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This is the best evidence showing the connection between stone and sphere. The larger conical 'stem' originates from the side of the sphere, the smaller, veinous attachment also appears to originate from the same location.

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But, by far the most unusual and bizarre aspect of the spheriod is the apparent marking on the lower right hemisphere. What this is I have no idea. Given the high quality of the image, I doubt it is an image anomaly...it can be seen in the original, as well as this enhanced close up.


From Universe Today - February 9, 2004.

The first outcrop rock Opportunity examined up close is finely-layered, buff-colored and in the process of being eroded by windblown sand. "Embedded in it like blueberries in a muffin are these little spherical grains," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the rovers' scientific instruments. Microscopic images show the gray spheres in various stages of being released from the rock.
"This is wild looking stuff," Squyres said. "The rock is being eroded away and these spherical grains are dropping out." The spheres may have formed when molten rock was sprayed into the air by a volcano or a meteor impact. Or, they may be concretions, or accumulated material, formed by minerals coming out of solution as water diffused through rock, he said.
The main task for both rovers in coming weeks and months is to explore the areas around their landing sites for evidence in rocks and soils about whether those areas ever had environments that were watery and possibly suitable for sustaining life.


Very interesting article at Stardate.org discussing rock-eating microbes.


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© Bryan Butcher, 2004

Context Images courtesy NASA/JPL