Everyone’s favourite SUV-sized Mars rover has found a rock that has never been found before – and bears a startling similarity to volcanic rocks on Earth.
While it may sound like a dumb headline, the actual story is much more interesting – not least because the rock has a name – Jake.
Curiosity’s first target for the bewildering array of sensors on the SUV-sized beast is a rock type that has never been found before on Mars. After being shot at with laser beams (to vaporise the rock), bombarded with alpha particles and X-rays the rock has given up what its made of – and it bears a considerable similarity to igneous rocks formed in the Earth’s interior.
On Earth, rocks with composition like the Jake rock typically come from processes in the planet’s mantle beneath the crust, from crystallization of relatively water-rich magma at elevated pressure. It could be an indication of an area like the Pacific Rim with its “ring of fire” of submarine volcanoes.
The rock is named Jake Matijevic after Jacob Matijevic, a NASA Mathematician and Engineer who worked on three Mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit/Opportunity and the present Curiosity. He died earlier this year after a long standing battle with respiratory illness.
This Wired article has some interested unconfirmed speculation in the comments that its around 5 million years old – young in geological terms and an interesting hint (if true) at a geologically active Mars in the fairly recent past.