Curiosity Rover Finds ‘Flower’ on Mars

An article I wrote for ElectronicProducts.

The cameras on NASA’s Curiosity rover snapped new pictures of an odd formation on Mars that has stirred up lots of talk. Embedded in a Martian rock, many have dubbed the strange formation a “Martian flower.”

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Picture via digitaljournal.com.

Close-up images with a 360-degree panoramic view of the red planet’s barren surface were captured during Curiosity’s exploration. The panorama was assembled from pictures snapped by the rover’s navigation camera system, Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), on its 132nd Martian day on Mars, also known as Sol 132 or Dec. 19.

The pictures causing the hype focus on a crumpled, light object, seemingly sprouting from the surface of Yellowknife Bay on Mars. The oddity’s shape is similar to that of a flower’s pistils, which caused those who were buzzing about it over the Internet to call the discovery a “Martian flower.”

Many people observing the shiny bit through images believed that it was part of the rock, shaking up discussion, as others were sure it must have been something dropped from the spacecraft, like in previous finds. When the question went to NASA spokesman, Guy Webster, he confirmed that the object is part of the rock and is not litter left behind from the rover’s exploration.

So now the question is, “What can it be?” Some scientists believe the object is a crystal-like mineral because it seems to be blooming out of solid rock, which is nearly non-existent. Others speculate it to be a concentration of minerals embedded in the rock. Still others think it to be a fossil. The MAHLI camera, with its high-resolution, was created to take close-up pictures of the surface of Mars. Though the image of the tiny, pearly object is clear, discovering what the “Martian flower” really is continues to have everyone guessing.

Curiosity will begin drilling into a Martian rock at Yellowknife Bay later this month, and what’s discovered may help unravel the mystery. The rover will be the first ever to break into one of the red planet’s rocks. It’s been confirmed by NASA that they have picked their candidate, based on data about its hardness, composition, and the safety of Curiosity. All of the instruments have been commissioned, and the drill is the only tool left to be arranged. The hammer action of the drill will allow Curiosity to collect powdered samples from up to five centimeters inside the rock. They will then be passed to the onboard laboratories for analysis.

Curiosity will continue to educate us about our neighboring planet, about 210 million miles away. Mars has an environment that can easily trick us into thinking we see something biological, so it’s best to wait until Curiosity’s mission team has time to analyze the object. We’re only scraping at the surface of the red planet, so there are many mysteries to come.

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