In praise of rocks…

Curiosity is now a photo-taking demon. Every day literally hundreds of new images come back, showing the spectacular scenery inside Gale Crater, and it’s easy to miss a day and miss out on some truly spectacular scenes. I check in with the images as often as I can, several times a day in fact, but still I know I’m missing stuff! But what I have seen and what I am seeing regularly is just spectacular, and it’s giving me a whole new appreciation for the science of geology. It’s also adding to my already high level of frustration that I don’t know more about geology myself, because I see the rocks, the dust dunes, and the surrounding hills, and I know nothing about them apartfrom the basics. It’s very frustrating, and quite saddening too.

The thing is, the images being returned by Curiosity are *so* busy, contain so *much* beautiful geology, that it’s tempting – and, after you’ve done it once, easy – to just skim over them visually, to kind of “speed read” them if you know what I mean. You pick out a rock or two, maybe drawn to its unusual shape, or colour, or the weird, freaky angle it’s laying at on the surface, but the rest? Just background noise, geological static. Next image please…

Take this next image for instance. It’s actually a mosaic I’ve stitched together out of several individual frames… if you want to see it in all its glory, click on it to enlarge it but remember, for some reason WordPress has changed the way it enlarges images, so you’ll have to click on another link *above* the image when you see it on its own page… I know, bizarre, but what can you do…?

pano2 dec16

Now that’s a VERY busy picture, isn’t it? So many rocks! SO many different shapes, and sizes, textures and angles… a couple of those rocks jump out at you because they look so striking, but there’s so much clutter there that it’s a bit like a martian Magic Eye picture (ha! showing my age now! Younger readers – Google search for “Magic Eye”, they were all the rage back in the Ice Age…!). So what I did was pull a few rocks out of that image and isolate them, beneath it, to highlight just what a bewildering and beautiful variety of rocks and stones there are here in Gale…

rocks of gale crater

Ah, now you can see… look at the differences! There are flat, platey, round-edged, heavy-looking slabs of smooth rock that look like fat paving stones… there are angular shards of much darker rock, with rough edges and roughened faces that look like debris from a bombed-out building… there are plates of rocks stacked on top of each other… there are long, sharp blades of much lighter stone.. there are rocks with banding visible on their sides…

WHY?!?!? Why are they different? Why do they look the way they do? What stories do these rocks tell the mission scientists? I wish they’d tell us that. I wish someone would give us a Beginner’s Guide to Martian Geology, taking a picture like that one of mine, above, and just patiently go over it, picking out rocks, explaining why they look the way they do, how they got to look that way, what studying them can tell us about Mars… That’s not me being lazy, I could do that myself I know, with a couple of hours tapping away on Google, but wouldn’t it be great if a mission scientist did that? It would be like being taken to Mars, in person, by a geologist, and having them walk around the floor of Gale Crater with you, stopping to look at rocks and, kneeling down beside them, tell their story. I would love that, and I’m sure many other people would, too.

Take this image for example, another multi-frame mosaic I’ve stitched together…

pano1 dec16

…or this one, which I’m particularly pleased with…

pano rocks sh

Why are those rocks so dark, and why are they so different to the rocks scattered around them? That fascinates me!

If you – yes, you, reading this right now! – are a geologist who fancies talking us through what we’re seeing, let me know, that would be fantastic!

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