A group of purple rocks spotted by NASA’s Curiosity Rover has sparked the interest of agency scientists, who believe they could hold clues as to what was life once like on Mars.
The oddly-colored rocks were discovered while Curiosity was scouting the Martian landscape near Mount Sharp’s base. NASA engineers used the rover’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) to capture an image of the rocks in three frames.
According to NASA, the variations in the Martian rocks’ colors point to their diverse composition, particularly those located in the lower regions of Mount Sharp.
Many of the purple rocks observed by Curiosity in the foreground correspond to areas where the rover also detected the iron-oxide mineral hematite using its Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.
On Earth, hematite is often used as a pigment, or a component for making jewelry. The mineral is known to have a wide variety of colors, which include red, brown to reddish brown, gray to silver gray, and black. Its red color can sometimes bleed, leaving a more purple tone in its stead.
NASA said strong winds in the area tend to keep rocks free from the red dust that typically cover many regions on Mars. This allowed Curiosity to spot the purple rocks on the ground.
Signs Of Life On The Red Planet
Researchers studying the red planet consider the discovery of hematite as very interesting, especially since the mineral is known to form in aqueous environments. Its presence on Mars could help prove that water was once very much part of the planet at some point.
Dr. Joy Crisp, a project scientist for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, pointed out that where there was water, there’s also a likelihood that life had once thrived in the area as well.
Crisp explained that if they could determine how hematite was formed on Mars, they could find out more about the kind of environment that existed on the planet. This could help reveal whether Mars had favorable conditions enough to sustain life.
Aside from looking for potential signs of life, Curiosity was also scouting the base of Mount Sharp to uncover clues on how the 18,000-foot mountain was formed.
“There’s nothing like [Mount Sharp] on Earth,” John Grotzinger, lead scientist for the Curiosity mission, said. “We don’t really know what’s going on there.”
The Gale crater on Mars is believed to have been formed following a major asteroid impact. However, this is not the case for the mountains on the planet. Researchers suspect that Mount Sharp could have been formed years before the crater came to be.