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Curiosity spies a Martian ‘flower’ formed out of rock

NASA’s Curiosity rover, currently exploring Mars, has discovered an intriguing rock formation in the shape of a flower. The tiny object, smaller than a penny, was imaged by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera which sits on the end of its robotic arm.

“Stop and small the Martian ‘flower’,” NASA wrote on Twitter. “On Feb. 24, 2022, our @MarsCuriosity rover captured this image of a flower-like rock. Smaller than a penny, this and a bouquet of other findings gives scientists insight into the Red Planet’s ancient past.”

A flower-like rock artifact imaged by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover using its Mars Hand Lens Imager.
Smaller than a penny, the flower-like rock artifact on the left was imaged by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover using its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of its robotic arm. The image was taken on Feb. 24, 2022, the 3,396th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity came across the object on the 3396th Martian day of its mission, while it was exploring an area of Mars called the Greenheugh Pediment. The rover was investigating sedimentary rocks in this area and using its MAHLI camera to look at textures in the rocks as well as its Mastcam and ChemCam instruments to learn more about the composition of these rocks. In addition to snapping photos of striking rock shapes, Curiosity was also collecting images to form four mosaic images which will cover some more distant rocks and sand deposits.

As for the flower-shaped rock, according to NASA, it is not formed from any kind of organic process but rather was made by mineral deposits carried in water. Mars is now a dry planet with almost no liquid water on its surface, but millions of years ago there was abundant water there which flowed in rivers and created formations that still exist there today.

“The “flower,” along with the spherical rock artifacts seen to the right [of the image], were made in the ancient past when minerals carried by water cemented the rock,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory writes. “Curiosity has in the past discovered a diverse assortment of similar small features that formed when mineralizing fluids traveled through conduits in the rock. Images of such features are helping scientists understand more about the prolonged history of liquid water in Gale Crater.”

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