New year, new photos from our atomic-powered robot currently on the surface of Mars, same predictable reactions.
In a newly released image, Curiosity has snapped some interesting rock formations described by the team as “stick-like figures,” which was just what the Internet needed to claim evidence of life there. A quick google suggests that they are either fossils or signs from an ancient civilization, depending on where you get your conspiracy theories.
“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,” the twitter feed of the rover reads.
Curiosity first spotted the unusual geological formations in the middle of last month, and the probe was busy over the holidays analyzing the region. The chemical composition of the entire zone has attracted attention from scientists. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter noticed bluer hues in this area compared to neighboring ones and the team decided to extend the time Curiosity was to spend analyzing the terrain.
The rover used its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer to work out the composition of the “stick figures” and another target in their vicinity. The instrument works by being placed in contact with the sample and then releasing Helium nuclei (the alpha particles) and X-rays. This causes the surface material to lose electrons in distinctive ways, allowing the scientists to work out the composition of the sample.
Curiosity also used its ChemCam to take wider observations of the area to help unravel its peculiar color. The data from all these observations is currently being analyzed so we will soon find out exactly what these formations are and hopefully get some idea of how they came to form.
Curiosity has spent almost 2,000 days climbing up Mount Sharp, which is located in the middle an ancient Martian lake known as Gale Crater. The rover is slowly uncovering how the Red Planet's environment changed from a water-rich world billions of years ago to the frigid dry desert we see today. Images and scientific data from the mission have been instrumental in expanding our knowledge on Mars’ geology at the beginning of the Solar System.
So alas, no fossils, no people, no frenzy, and sadly, no Bowie.