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02.11.2013

Mars Rock Takes Unusual Form

Rocks With Unusual Form

Rocks With Unusual Form 

On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is this shiny-looking rock seen in images from the Mars Curiosity rover.
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In the Eye of the Beholder

In the Eye of the Beholder 

Some casual observers might see a door handle, hood ornament or other metallic, shiny object. To the Curiosity science team, this is a great example how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks. Find out what likely caused the shiny appearance of this Martian rock, and see other examples of similar phenomena found on Earth in this slideshow.
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Surfaces Eroded by Wind

Surfaces Eroded by Wind 

Often you can see knobs or projections on the surface eroded by the wind, particularly when a harder, less-erodible rock is on top.
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Erosion by Fine Particles

Erosion by Fine Particles 

This is what we call a ventifacted (wind-eroded) surface caused by many fine particles (dust and sand) impacting the surface over time. Note the sculpting of the surface, as softer parts erode more easily or they may reflect small-scale wind patterns.
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Dust-Free Surfaces

Dust-Free Surfaces 

Notice that the wind-blasted surfaces tend to be dust-free, while the surfaces not directly being eroded by wind may have a fine layer of reddish dust or rock-weathering rind. The sandblasted surfaces may reveal the inherent rock color and texture.
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Shiny Knob

Shiny Knob 

This knob has a different type of rock on the end of the projection. This rock may vary in composition or the rock grain size may be smaller. The rock on top of the projection is likely resistant to wind erosion and protects the underlying rock from being eroded. The shiny surface suggests that this rock has a fine grain and is relatively hard. Hard, fine-grained rocks can be polished by the wind to form very smooth surfaces.
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Examples from Antarctica

Examples from Antarctica 

Ventifacts formed from dolerite rock in Taylor Valley, Antarctica. This group of rocks likely started as a single rock that over time has broken apart. The wind has eroded the surfaces that appear gray, while the reddish part of the rock is simply the weathered surface of rock patina. The inset picture shows another example of a rock breaking apart in place and being eroded by the wind.
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Arena Valley Antactica

Arena Valley Antactica 

Rock pavements on the surface of soils and sediments can also be sculpted by wind erosion. The image on the left is a desert pavement from Arena Valley, Antarctica. This is an old surface that has likely been forming for millions of years. Over time the rocks will form a beautifully-interlocked surface that protects the soils/sediments below from being eroded away.
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Beach Erosion from North Norway

Beach Erosion from North Norway 

This image is from a modern beach north Norway. The area where these form is windy, and sand is often blowing. This reveals that these features can form rapidly, depending on the wind frequency/velocity and the amount of fine particles entrained by the wind to sandblast the surfaces.
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Wind-Eroded Rock on Earth

Wind-Eroded Rock on Earth 

In this image we see wind-eroded rock that has originated along a contact zone between granite and dolerite. The dark-colored dolerite is resistant to erosion and is polished smooth by the wind. The granite is also shaped by the wind; however, since it is coarser-grained, it is not polished as smoothly as the fine-grained dolerite.
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Shiny-Looking Martian Rock
A shiny-looking Martian rock is visible in this image taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) during the mission's 173rd Martian day, or sol (Jan. 30, 2013).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
On Mars, as on Earth, sometimes things can take on an unusual appearance. A case in point is a shiny-looking rock seen in a recent image from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover.

Some casual observers might see a resemblance to a car door handle, hood ornament or some other type of metallic object. To Ronald Sletten of the University of Washington, Seattle, a collaborator on Curiosity's science team, the object is an interesting study in how wind and the natural elements cause erosion and other effects on various types of rocks.

Find out what likely caused the shiny appearance of the Martian rock, and see some examples of similar phenomena found on Earth. A PDF of the images and explanatory text is available: http://mars.nasa.gov/files/mep/ventifacts.pdf.

2013-053

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov




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