Curiosity Rover Finds Unusual Tube Objects on Mars
Since a year on Mars is about 120 days longer than an Earth year, it's on a very different schedule. And that means that NASA's Curiosity Rover, currently wandering around the Martian surface, didn't get to take New Year's Day off.
And that's good, because the rover came across something bizarre over the holidays. Curiosity recently sent back some images of odd-looking "stick figures" on the ground, an assortment of stone squiggles that resemble tubes or worms. At least a few of them are visible in the Martian photos, and they're all about a quarter inch in length — so they're small, but nobody expected to find anything like that laying around.
Nobody at NASA is entirely sure what they are yet, although they have some guesses (more on that in a bit). But it surprised them enough that when they first received Curiosity's photos of the stick figures along with some interesting blue hues on the ground, they turned the rover around to go take more photos. No break time for Curiosity, as usual.
Meanwhile, back on Mars... I’m checking out these stick-like figures. Each is about a quarter-inch long. Maybe they're crystals? Or they could be minerals that filled spaces where crystals dissolved away. Stay tuned! Science continues. pic.twitter.com/4oR70BVht3— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 4, 2018
Currently, the best guess from NASA is that the stick things are crystals, or minerals that were formed from the dissolved remains of crystals. They don't shine very much, but being covered by ages of Mars dust can do that sort of thing, and scientists don't have anything with opposable enough thumbs to easily pick them up and dust them off. But Curiosity is still investigating the area, on NASA's orders.
Of course, whenever something weird pops up on Mars, onlookers also start to gravitate toward the most common cause of absurd weirdness: living things. At the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, researcher Barry DiGregorio claimed that the sticks look remarkably like trace fossils, which are indirect fossils like animal tracks, burrowing paths, etc. He went on to say that he'd photographed similar trace fossils on Earth.
Although if something did leave those tracks, they didn't get very far, and they only seemed to exist for a few brief moments to leave those tracks behind. The sticks are pretty isolated in the area, being found in only a small chunk of the wider Martian expanse that the Curiosity rover is currently trekking across.
Here's a wider shot. The red box shows roughly where the close-up of the stick-like features goes. Note: this was taken from a different angle. More info at https://t.co/cfLajNkRVX pic.twitter.com/iNpc50Zcd4— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) January 4, 2018
Since NASA still looking over those images, and Curiosity is still looking around for other strange tubes nearby, we might start to see some more confident answers regarding what these things are. Curiosity is making "Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer" measurements, which is a fancy way of saying it's measuring what sort of chemicals are in the sticks and the surrounding ground.
And the fact that the area is vaguely blueish is still interesting as well, as NASA explained in a brief press release:
That "blue" part should hopefully be explained soon as well, but only time will tell.