A strange and beautiful place…

Yes, we’re back! I am sure some of you thought this blog had closed for business when posts dried up after Christmas, but no, you don’t get rid of us so easily! Apologies for the radio silence, but I was busy with a number of things – work, being ill, writing my blog all about Comets PANSTARRS and ISON – that kept me away.

And, yes, I’ll be perfectly honest, I just got bored with Curiosity and her mission, and was feeling no inspiration to write about it. I know that’s heresy coming from a self-confessed Mars fanatic, but it’s true. I just got sick of seeing the same rocks, the same ledges, the same teeny tiny dust dunes and the same dust scoops and spill. I was feeling like the fantastically exciting exobiological side of the mission was being quietly ignored at best and kicked under the table like a mewling kitten at worst, by people who seem strangely scared by the idea of just looking for life on other planets. That was really hacking me off, I’ll be honest, so I decided to just take a break from writing about Curiosity, and Gale, and come back when things – and the rover – started moving again.

And boy, have they! There was a media briefing this week, at which the MSL science team showed how the rover has found evidence that the area of the floor of Gale Crater across which MSL is currently travelling was once *drenched* in water, which is of course very exciting for the prospects of finding signs of past life here. Yes, I said the L word, so shoot me.

There was a lot of excitement amongst rover followers recently about a strange bright thing photographed embedded in one of the rocks, which did, I’ll admit, look a lot like a tiny shell of fragment of shell, but the rover team explained that it was just a large bright sand grain.

So, the rover is now in Yellowknife Bay, and is preparing to use its drill for the first time, which is very exciting. And Yellowknife Bay is a spectacular, beautiful place, with a lot of weird and wonderful geology, like this…

a

See? What the hell is going on there? All those little pits and rings in the rock, very odd. I wish the MSL team would have someone on hand to just tap out a few words of explanation when a picture like that appears, it would be really useful.

Any of the MSL images returned recently have had the woo-woos screaming about how the rover has spotted life on Mars, but NASA are either keeping it a secret or are too dumb to spot it when it’s right in front of their faces. A few of the loudest alien hunters have been insisting that white areas seen on the rocks around this area are actually patches of lichen, but NASA aren’t admitting it. Right, that makes perfect sense – a space agency which desperately wants more money, has found life on Mars, but aren’t admitting it, even though such a discovery would solve all their budget problems in a moment because the discovery of life on Mars would lead to demands for follow-up manned missions there as soon as possible. Honstly, I could give up sometimes…

Curiosity is now taking a good long look at a little rock she spotted a day or so ago…

d

When Curiosity took a closer look, she saw this…

b

…and when she took an even CLOSER look she saw this… (note: I’ve sharpened this up and played about with the levels and contrast a bit just to bring out details on the rock…)…

c

Oooh, that’s pretty isn’t it? What does that remind you of? Not lichen. I think that looks like “Homestake”, the vein of light mineral Opportunity found up near the northern end of Cape York last year… is that little rock covered in gypsum? That would make sense if this part of Gale Crater was indeed once “drenched” with water because gypsum forms in the presence of water, and through the action of water. Just click on that image and then on the link above it to the larger full resolution version when it appears, and take a good look at the rock in all its glory, it really is beautiful.

So, that’s what Curiosity has been getting up to, and yes, “Gale Gazette” is back. Coming soon – all the news about the long-awaited first use of the rover’s drill…

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One thought on “A strange and beautiful place…

  1. coacervate says:

    The images showing small cone-like or bubbly structures…I think they were made when a slurry of fine sand came into contact with small, highly desiccated clay pebbles…the clay absorbed the water rapidly on contact with the slurry, causing localized solidification in the contact zone. Later, after the whole system dried out, wind or some force dislodged the pebbles leaving the conical structures. Or not : )

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