Thousands of unusual gray spherules, made of iron and rock were the
most important discovery made by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity as soon as it set down on Meridiani in January 2004.
A NASA news release of March 18, 2004 referred to these spherical iron-oxide concretions - as "blueberries".
Thousands of them were found embedded in and surrounding rocks near the landing site of the robot Opportunity rover on Mars.
"Blueberries", a few millimeters in diameter, formed within the soft sandstones of Meridiani Planum (rich
in the iron mineral hematite deposits, according to Mars Global Surveyor data) when they were soaked with groundwater.
How were these unusual Martian spherules created? Thousands of unusual gray spherules, made of iron and rock
but dubbed blueberries, were found embedded in and surrounding rocks near the landing site of the robot Opportunity
rover on Mars. To help investigate their origin, Opportunity found a surface dubbed the Berry Bowl with an
indentation that was rich in the Martian orbs.
The Berry Bowl is pictured above, imaged during rover's 48th Sol on Mars. The average diameter of a blueberry is only
about 4 millimeters. By analyzing a circular patch in the rock surface to the left of the densest patch of spherules,
Opportunity obtained data showing that the underlying rock has a much different composition than the hematite rich
blueberries. This information contributes to the growing consensus is that these small, strange, gray orbs were slowly
deposited from a bath of dirty water. Mars Exploration Rover Mission, JPL, NASA
Nasa scientists, highly intrigued by these objects, had many unsolved questions:
"What is the distribution of these things within the soil?" How were these unusual Martian spherules created?
"Are we going to see granules below the surface or are they just distributed across the top?
Are we going to see a dense concentration of granules all the way down?"
"Where did these spherules that are embedded in the outcrop come from?".
"Did they grow in place? What is the composition of the outcrop? What does it tell us about the possibility
that water is involved?"
Now, two scientists David Wacey and Matt Kilburn of the University of Western Australia discovered that microbes
helped shape rare spheres of iron-oxide on Earth may aid the newly landed Curiosity Rover in its search for the first
verifiable signs of extra-terrestrial life in similar rocks on Mars.
Previous theories suggested these concretions were formed by simple chemical reactions without the help of life.
However, new UWA research shows clear evidence that microbes were essential in their formation.
This raises the possibility that Martian "blueberries" may not only reveal that water was present on Mars -
but also life too.
Click on image to enlarge
Big spherules near Victoria
Spherules up to about 5 millimeters (one-fifth of an inch) in diameter. The camera took this image
during the 924th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's Mars-surface mission (Aug. 30, 2006), when the rover was
about 200 meters (650 feet) north of Victoria Crater.
Opportunity discovered spherules like these, nicknamed "blueberries," at its landing site in "Eagle Crater,"
and investigations determined them to be iron-rich concretions that formed inside deposits soaked with groundwater.
However, such concretions were much smaller or absent at the ground surface along much of the rover's trek of more
than 5 kilometers (3 miles) southward to Victoria.
The big ones showed up again when Opportunity got to the ring, or annulus, of material excavated and thrown outward
by the impact that created Victoria Crater.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/U.S. Geological Survey
Wacey and Kilburn used high-resolution NanoSIMS technology at the University's Centre
for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis to show clear relationships in the Utah concretions between
microbe-like forms and concentrations of biological elements such as carbon and nitrogen.
Earth-based analogues for these "blueberries" are found in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone near the Colorado River,
Utah, where the concretions range in size from small marbles to cannonballs and consist of a hard shell of iron
oxide surrounding a softer sandy interior.
Click on image to enlarge
Martian spherules, commonly called blueberries, discovered by Opportunity
Researchers hypothesize that some layer beneath the surface in Victoria's vicinity was once soaked with water long
enough to form the concretions, that the crater-forming impact dispersed some material from that layer, and that
Opportunity might encounter that layer in place if the rover drives down into the crater. Credits: NASA
University of Nebraska Assistant Professor Karrie Weber said UWA's CMCA facility - which is used to study
everything from early life on Earth to cancer drugs, plant biology, rocks and soils, and nanotechnology - was
chosen because of its demonstrated success in identifying microbial fossils.
The latest six-wheeled Mars Rover - Curiosity - landed successfully on August 6 after a 570 million kilometre
journey from Earth. The touch-down site at Gale Crater was chosen for its geological potential to reveal signs
of water and past microbial life.
Dr Wacey said scientists hoped Curiosity Rover would find more "Martian blueberries" near the new landing site.
Should this occur, the robot is equipped to identify mineralogy, detect organic material, capture high-resolution
images and bring humans a step closer to answering the question "are we alone?"
"Sputtering" Can Explain How Mars Lost Its Atmosphere
The Red Planet's thin atmosphere does little to shield the ground against radiation from the Sun and space.
Though it doesn't look like a nice place to live now, Mars may have had an atmosphere more like ours on Earth! But how did it lose it?
Extraterrestrial Life Is A Censored Subject Says Famous Professor
It is not often scientists are willing to openly discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
According to a famous astronomy professor there is a reason why a majority of scientists avoid the subject - it is censored!
Even though the general public embraces ideas of extraterrestrial life, science is expected to shun this subject no
matter how strong the evidence, albeit through a conspiracy of silence.
Lunar Paradox Problem:
Moon Origin In Focus Again!
There are many secrets still remaining around the creation of Stonehenge.
Where did the Moon come from? How did it get there? These questions are still waiting for answers.
The origin of the Moon has been challenged many times, each time creating a new puzzle as to how it formed..