Unusual Mars Rock Surprises Rover Scientists

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This image shows where NASA's Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as "Jake Matijevic." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
This image shows where NASA’s Curiosity rover aimed two different instruments to study a rock known as “Jake Matijevic.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

BY Rosanne Skirble – The Mars rover Curiosity, now 63 days into its two-year exploration of the red planet, has analyzed a football-sized rock that NASA scientists say has some surprisingly Earth-like qualities.

Curiosity’s engineers on Earth put the drilling and sampling tools on the rover’s robotic arm to full use this week as they assessed the makeup of the pyramid-shaped rock. The sample is named Jake Matijevic, in honor of a senior engineer on the Curiosity team who passed away this summer.  Co-investigator Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology says the football-size rock is similar to a kind of igneous, or volcanic rock found on Earth.

“The composition of Jake Matijevic is a very close match to highly crystalized or fractionated magmas that occur on particular places on earth,” said Stolper.

Stolper says it is difficult to conclude from this one rock whether it formed the same way such rocks formed on Earth. But he says further studies could answer that question.

Scientists were pleased with the data they gathered from two new instruments on Curiosity – the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the Chemistry and Camera Instrument, called ChemCam, which shoots rock-busting laser pulses from the top of the rover’s mast.

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