The Opportunity Rover, which is trundling happily around Mars, has spotted a distinctive streak of rock breaking through the surface of the red planet.
While scouting around for a spot to sit through during the chilly Martian winter, Opportunity's handlers noticed a bright vein of light-coloured minerals on the edge of the Endeavour crater, on a bit of raised ground named Cape York.Environment Clean Generations
It's thought that the rocks could be phyllosilicates -- minerals that form in a watery environment. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has already spotted phyllosilicates -- in this case, smectites made of iron- and magnesium-rich clays -- from orbit, but hasn't been able to sample them to check for sure.
Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover principal investigator at Cornell University, said: "This is a real triumph of geology. We saw these veins as we crossed from the Meridiani plains into the Noachian terrain back in August. We've kept those in mind as a very important thing we wanted to look at, but we were so focused on getting into the Noachian and new terrain that we made that the highest priority, figuring that we would get the veins later."Environment Clean Generations
A composite of three images of the vein at close range (stitched together by Stu Atkinson) reveals a brighter surface than surrounding rocks, complete with intriguing linear scratches. "These are different than anything from anything we've ever seen with either rover, a completely new thing on Mars, never seen anywhere," Squyres said. "We're pretty charged up about it."Environment Clean Generations
There's no official word on what the vein is, but Squyres says that it's different from anything previously seen by Opportunity or its now-dead sister rover Spirit. Once the winter is over, and Opportunity's solar panels have collected what little sunlight they can, the rover will resume its exploration of the area surround the crater.
Bruce Banerdt, MER project scientist at JPL, said: "We're already picking up new geology and new rocks and new petrology that no one's ever encountered yet on the Martian surface. It's all great stuff. There is a lot of activity going on and the science team is really jazzed right now."
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