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On Mars, Curiosity photographed strange rocky tentacles

Curiosity may no longer be the darling of NASA and the general public, 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 great photo of a rock structure that looked striking since it looked like a funny little flower; this time, the robot flushed out a pair of strange columns that might 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 space. Some might also see some kind of fossilized plant there, or even an alien tentacle that has emerged from the dust. But the real explanation is a bit less exciting.

The Martian equivalent of hoodoos?

According to the researchers, it is probably a miniature equivalent of the hoodoos that exist on Earth. These are natural columns of rock which have the particularity of being surmounted by a sort of cap made up of a different rock. The best known are in Turkey, but they are also found in France, especially near the Alps or in the Queyras.

All terrestrial environments where they are found have one thing in common: there is an abundance of sedimentary rocks. These are friable and fairly weak rocks that are formed by the accumulation of deposits resulting from erosion.

Under certain conditions, these rocks can become sandwiched and compressed between other layers composed of much denser, erosion-resistant rock. Over the centuries, the different points of the ground are therefore not planed at the same speed; water and wind infiltrate small spaces, and over time they begin to dig furrows in the most friable rock.

This results in a snowball effect: this erosion digs furrows which gradually become channels where water can flow. This leads to increasingly significant erosion which leaves only a few relatively vertical structures, a bit like figurines whose mold has been dissolved.

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

Direct evidence of Mars’ liquid past

This isn’t the first time Curiosity has spotted structures that were likely formed as a result of such a process. The “flowers” ​​that the rover recently spotted are also sedimentary structures. Same goes for piles of little rocky marbles ripped from the surface by erosion that NASA has affectionately dubbed “blueberries.”

All of these are of particular interest to researchers; it is almost indisputable proof that there was indeed water on the surface of the red planet. This echoes the findings of Perseverance, whose work allowed NASA to confirm that Jezero Crater was indeed an ancient dry lake (see our article).

However, on Earth, these sedimentary rocks shaped by the movements of fluids are all potential receptacles that can harbor traces of a past life. NASA is therefore hopeful that there are still traces of hypothetical Martian life nearby.

By analyzing these rocks and their environments through various rovers such as Curiosity or Perseverance, NASA therefore hopes to find clues to 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 rim of Jezero Crater where it landed last year (see our article). It is the main objective of its mission, because several of the conditions that could potentially have participated in the appearance of a form of life as we know it are met there. It is therefore advisable to remain alert, because it is not excluded that NASA will make a historic announcement in the coming months.

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