NASA’s curiosity rover recently snapped a close-up image of a tiny, flower-like mineral deposit on the surface of Mars.
The one centimetre wide, beautiful branching rock that looks a bit like a coral or a sponge, was likely formed when water still covered the Red Planet, Live Science reported.
Curiosity took the image of the mineral flower, that bears resemblance to a living organism, but is not alive, on February 25 near Aeolis Mons, also known as Mount Sharp – situated at the heart of the 154 kilometres Gale crater on the Red Planet.
According to NASA, the mineral flower was imaged using an onboard focusing process, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) aboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. It was created by merging two to eight images previously taken by the MAHLI, located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.
“The flower-like rock, which has been named the Blackthorn Salt, is a diagenetic feature, or one made from minerals that precipitated from ancient water that had previously been mixed with Martian rock,” Abigail Fraeman, a planetary scientist and deputy project scientist for the Curiosity rover, was quoted as saying to Live Science.
Diagenetic features found on Mars are similar in size but can have either a branched shape, also known as dendritic form, like the Blackthorn Salt, or be more rounded or even spherical, like other rocks in the same photo, she added.
Since its arrival on Mars in 2012, Curiosity has discovered several other diagenetic features including flower-like deposits from the Pahrump Hills area in 2015 and other diagenetic features from the Murray formation in 2019.
Continuing to document new diagenetic features like the Blackthorn Salt is important because it could help researchers figure out when liquid water disappeared from Mars.
“We can learn more about the complex and long-lived history of water at Mount Sharp,” Fraeman said. This could reveal more information about how long the environment could have been potentially habitable to life, she added.