Curiosity Finds a Bizarre Rock on Mars that Looks Like a Flower

The Curiosity rover took a picture of something pretty enticing this week on the surface of Mars. While the object in question looks like a tiny little flower or maybe even some type of organic feature, the rover team confirmed this object is a mineral formation, with delicate structures that formed by mineral precipitating from water. The size of this tiny object is just 1 centimeter.

Curiosity has actually seen these types of features before, which are called concretions. These are minerals eroded from sedimentary rock that were cemented by mineral-rich groundwater. These could also be what are known as diagenetic crystal clusters. Diagenetic means the recombination or rearrangement of minerals, and these features consist of three-dimensional crystal clusters, likely made of a combination of minerals.

Curiosity deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman said on Twitter that these features that were seen previously were made of salts called sulfates.

From studies of previous features like this found on Mars (you can read a paper on them here), originally the feature was embedded within a rock, which eroded away over time. These mineral clusters, however, appear to be resistant to erosion.

You may recall the term concretion from the Opportunity rover mission, which saw features that were nicknamed ‘blueberries,’ since they were small and round. You can see round concretions next to the flower-like feature in this image.  

The rover science team saw this feature earlier this week and named it ‘Blackthorn Salt’. They used the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager, called MAHLI, to take these close-up images. This camera is the rover’s version of the magnifying hand lens that geologists usually carry with them into the field. MAHLI’s close-up images reveal the minerals and textures in rock surfaces. The team indicated they are doing more studies on this object with other science instruments.

Curiosity rover obtained this ‘Hand Lens’ extreme close-up of one of the very small and rather unusual concretion features. This one has been called ‘Blackthorn Salt’. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Here you can see a 3-D model of the object, thanks to Simeon Schmauss:

Mineral formation | Mars Curiosity Sol 3396 by semeion on Sketchfab

Curiosity found another flower-like feature back in 2013, and the Spirit rover found similar-looking rocks that were nicknamed ‘cauliflower’ features because of their knobby protuberances.

“Cauliflower” shaped silica-rich rocks photographed by the Spirit Rover near the Home Plate rock formation in Gusev Crater in 2008. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Our thanks to Kevin Gill who processed the images, taken on Sol 3397. See more great Curiosity images processed by Kevin at his Flickr page.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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