Curiosity discovers a “flower” rock on Mars 

The “Blackthorn Salt” holds clues to the history of water on Mars.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has discovered a Martian rock shaped like a flower — a relic from the ancient history of water on Mars.

What is it? Curiosity discovered the rock, which is smaller than a penny, near Mount Sharp in Mars’ Gale crater. NASA has named it the Blackthorn Salt, and it’s what’s known as a “diagenetic feature.” 

These aren’t uncommon on Mars, and they formed when ancient water flowed through cracks in Martian rock. Minerals in the water hardened, and when the rock eroded, the diagenetic feature was left behind.

“This dendritic shape is particularly beautiful.”

Abigail Fraeman

The image NASA shared also includes two spherical diagenetic features, but the flower-shaped Martian rock is a visual standout.

“We’ve seen diagenetic features with similar shapes before,”  Abigail Fraeman, deputy project scientist for the Curiosity rover, told Live Science, “but this dendritic shape is particularly beautiful.”

Taking the pic: Curiosity used the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on its robotic arm to take pictures of the Martian rock on February 24. It then merged up to eight of the photos into one image, putting as many details in focus as possible.

“Because the MAHLI focus merge is performed on Mars, it also serves as a means to reduce the number of images sent back to Earth,” NASA shared in a blog post.

This Martian rock could help NASA determine when the planet might have hosted life.

The big picture: The discovery of diagenetic features in a region lets NASA know it was once home to water. That information — along with  data from Mars orbiters, collected rock samples, and other sources — helps scientists piece together the history of water on Mars, including when it disappeared.

Water is a key indicator of life on Earth, so this knowledge could help researchers determine when the planet might have hosted life — and where to look for evidence of it today.

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Sound waves can trigger torpor-like state in mice and rats
Ultrasound stimulation triggers a torpor-like state in animals, suggesting a noninvasive way to put people into the state.
Shape-shifting space robots help firefighters on Earth
The designer of a new type of rover for NASA has found a way to make her space robots useful to firefighters on Earth.
Watch this autonomous drone deliver beer and peanuts in a baseball stadium
Guests at the opening of an autonomous systems conference witnessed a drone delivery at Denver’s Coors Field.
NASA spots an enormous water plume erupting on Saturn’s ocean moon
Using the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers are gaining new insights into Enceladus, which holds a sea beneath its icy surface.
A massive moon telescope could solve the mystery of the “Cosmic Dark Ages”
NASA hopes a massive radio telescope on the moon will be able to reveal what was happening during the mysterious “Cosmic Dark Ages.”
Up Next
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories