NASA's Curiosity robot, which has been rolling hither and yon on Mars in search of microbial life, has revealed some aspects of a rock that surprise scientists. The rock, named Jack Matijevic in honor of a NASA engineer who passed away shortly after Curiosity landed, contains a varied composition profile that was unexpected based on past missions. These newly discovered compositions give scientists a greater insight into the Martian planet's environment and processes.
The "Jake rock," as it is called, has a composition that is similar to that of igneous rocks found in volcanic areas on earth. It is the only rock they have discovered with this composition, for the time being, at least. The Jake rock is the first rock analyzed by Curiosity's Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, which is arm-mounted. Watch the video below to see Curiosity poke and prod at Jake.
Rocks with the composition of Jake are typically the result of crystallization of pressurized, water-rich magma. According to an APXS investigator, the Jake rock is particularly interesting because it is high in mineral feldspare-consistent elements, yet low in both iron and magnesium. The unique compositions were found at 14 different points on the rock.
Next up for Curiosity is a 100 yard trek eastwards, where a rock will be selected and used as the first subject to be drilled. Rock and soil samples are collected by the robot, and are utilized by researches to help analyze the environment. Over the next two years, a total of ten instruments on Curiosity will be used to try to determine whether the particular area has ever provided conditions for microbial life.