Curiosity rover puzzles over unusual Martian bedrock

A rock fragment dubbed "Lamoose" has unusually high concentrations of silica. The high silica was first detected in the area by the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) laser spectrometer. This rock was targeted for follow-up study by the MAHLI and the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS).

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has found bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica, something it has not before found in its three years on the red Planet's surface.

Silica, containing silicon and oxygen, is commonly found on Earth as quartz.

This area of the discovery lies on lower Mount Sharp.

"One never knows what to expect on Mars, but the ... target was interesting enough to go back and investigate," said Roger Wiens, the principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument, which detects chemical compositions in nearby terrain.

A rock outcrop dubbed "Missoula," near Marias Pass on Mars, is seen in this image mosaic taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager on NASA's Curiosity rover. Pale mudstone (bottom of outcrop) meets coarser sandstone (top) in this geological contact zone, which has piqued the interest of Mars scientists.

Before the silica discovery, Curiosity was studying an outcrop where a pale mudstone meets darker sandstone.

"We found an outcrop named Missoula where the two rock types came together, but it was quite small and close to the ground. We used the robotic arm to capture a dog's-eye view with the MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager) camera, getting our nose right in there," said Ashwin Vasavada, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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