NASA's Curiosity rover is no stranger to spying unusual rocky features after a decade of exploring the Martian surface – it was only a couple of months ago it even got to stop and smell the flowers. Now, the rover has come across some curiously shaped spikes, sending back an image of a scene that wouldn't look out of place in the Upside Down.
The "cool rock" was originally highlighted by the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) last week on Twitter, but the image was actually taken on May 15, or sol 3474, according to NASA.
Curiosity is exploring Gale Crater, and while taking pictures of weird things on Mars is a fun pastime, imaging unusual features gives scientists an idea of weather conditions and the type of rock at certain locations, offering a glimpse into the past and how these features may have formed.
According to SETI, "The spikes are most likely the cemented fillings of ancient fractures in a sedimentary rock. The rest of the rock was made of softer material and was eroded away."
With such a thin atmosphere – over 100 times thinner than Earth's – the Martian landscape can be a harsh place. Strong winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour), ancient water, and occasionally epic dust storms have influenced the topography for millions of years, carving out features like these.
The full image of the spikes snapped by Curiosity's MastCam on May 15. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Mars's robotic scientists may send back a lot of pictures of rocks, but those rocks – ranging from mysterious purple coated to green to hiding ancient water and even sneakily hitching rides – provide us with insights into the Red Planet's history, its make-up, and sheds light on the ultimate question: has there ever been, or could there ever be, life on Mars?